Sept. 27, 2004
By Elliott Finebloom, FSU Soccer SID
It is easy to forget about Katie Beal. When you play in the middle of the defense you don't want to be recognized. Only players who make mistakes in the back get recognized so it makes sense that Katie Beal is so often overlooked.
It is easy to forget that Katie was the first national team player to ever commit to Florida State or that she was the first All-American defender to ever play at FSU. Some might not even remember that she was the first FSU defender to ever be named to the All-ACC Tournament team. That's OK with Katie because all she ever wanted to do was win and that is one area where her success has not gone unnoticed.
"I don't think about that stuff. It is really nice afterwards but during the season all I want to do is win," said Katie matter of factly. "Individual honors don't cross my mind. I just want to get a win."
Whether she thinks about awards and records or not, Katie has amassed plenty of both while starting for four years at FSU. No defender in Florida State history has more goals, assists or points than Katie. She has been the only common link between the three best defenses in team history and she has led her team to the ACC Championship in two of her three years at FSU and played in the College Cup to boot.
"It is unbelievable what can happen in four years," said Katie with a laugh. "It has gone by so fast but so much has happened. I have been lucky and privileged to play here. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't make a single different decision."
The first decision she made was to come to FSU. No national team player had ever committed to play soccer at Florida State and when Katie decided to play in Tallahassee, the team had never been to an NCAA Tournament. Head coach Patrick Baker was in his second season as he took over a program that had just one winning season in school history. The 2000 campaign was off to a great start with upsets of Florida, Clemson and Texas A&M but those wins weren't what brought Katie to Tallahassee.
"From the very beginning, throughout the whole recruiting process, I knew I was going to come to Florida State," recalls Katie. "Even before I came on my visit I knew it. Coach Baker was my national team assistant coach for about two years and I got to know him. I knew I wanted him to coach me for my four years of college. He knows the game and takes care of his players. When I came to visit that was evident again."
"When I was with her at national team camp, the first time I met her I thought what a great person. I thought to myself that it would be neat if she would ever consider Florida State," remembers Baker. "Not only did she consider it but obviously she came here."
It didn't take long for Katie to make an impact at FSU as she started 23 of 24 games her freshman year and was named a first team freshman All-American by Soccer Buzz.
"I just wanted to come in and work really hard freshman year," said Katie. "That year's success was a team effort. I think it was a special year for my class that we were able to make an impact as freshmen."
Sophomore year was more challenging as Katie started the season sidelined due to mono, which limited her to 17 games and just nine starts. Trying to not only get healthy but also get back into playing shape in the middle of the season was difficult and not being out there tore the competitive Beal up inside. She fell off the national radar after her injury plagued sophomore season but 2003 saw the defender re-enter the national spotlight.
Playing with her third different center back in three years in Baker's 4-4-2 formation, the Beal-led Tribe defense began to establish itself as one of the nation's best. The Seminoles set team records for goals allowed and shutouts but what they did in the ACC was even more amazing. The Tribe allowed just five goals all season in seven conference games and shutout four ACC opponents. The five goals allowed were the third-fewest in ACC history and the four shutouts led the conference in ACC play.
"Every game you play in the ACC you are going to see the best forwards and central midfielders in the nation. I think you just have to have the mentality that you just can't stop," said Katie. "If you fall asleep, they are by you. As successful as we have been in the ACC the last couple of years, the type of season we had in the conference was so special. To defend players like Lindsey Tarpley and Heater O'Reilly and not have either one score against us in two, one-goal games is huge for this program. It goes to show how hard we worked and how far we have come.
"From my freshman year to now, the defense has always had a great chemistry because we got along on and off the field. That helps so much. The defensive mentality on this team has grown each year. Coach Baker has stressed how important the defense is. He has hammered that home each year and we set the bar a little higher each season. We want to make it harder for opponents to score every year and I think that has happened each year."
One of the reasons the 2003 defense was so special was Katie's new partner in the middle. Just five games into the season FSU was 1-4 and Katie took on the responsibility of mentoring a central defender who had national team experience and would eventually go on and become just the second freshman All-American defender in school history in Kelly Rowland.
"It is hard, there has been some turnover in that other center back position all three years I have been here," said Katie. "When you play defense you really have to know the capabilities of the player next to you. That is what is so nice about playing next to Kelly for the last year. We compliment each other really well. It is a pleasure to be able to play with her for the second straight season.
"It has been a great learning experience for me. She is my role model out there," said Kelly. "She is the player I want to become. She is a great leader and an amazing player. She organizes all of us vocally and by example. Every player around her wants to play up to her level, which is so high. She inspires you to play better."
The funny thing is that Katie actually looks up to Kelly as well. Kelly burst on to the scene last year and garnered a lot of attention as a freshman. Her success could have threatened the elder statesman of the backline but that's not Katie. Instead of jealousy she admired Kelly and looked up to her in a lot of ways.
"I don't know if I would consider myself Kelly's mentor," said Beal. "I look up to her and I hope she looks up to me as well. She is really hard and she never stops. Kelly is a special player."
"That is really surprising to hear," said a somewhat stunned Rowland. "I think it is the other way around a lot more. We have a really good relationship on and off the field. It will be weird without her next to me. I am going to miss her."
With the team success came a lot of individual success as well. Florida State players and coaches picked up 27 postseason honors at the end of the year and Beal took home her fair share of hardware including being named a Soccer Buzz third team All-American.
"It was special to make it to the final four. While I appreciate the individual honors I didn't give a second thought to the individual awards," said Katie. "We had such an amazing year and that was the best part. It was indescribable. The All-American was amazing but the award was the result of a team effort."
One of the reasons Katie was honored as an All-American is her grace under pressure. You will never see her panic no matter what US National Team forward is running in 1-v-1 against her or how much pressure her defense is under and that is by design.
"I try to never get panicked," said Katie. "As a senior and a captain, I know people will feed of my emotions so if I panic the players around me will to. I try to stay calm and loose. I have always been like that. I don't stress about things and when I do I try not to show it."
That steadfastness comes from an enormous confidence level that anyone who watches Katie play can't help but notice. While a lot of times confidence is confused with cockiness that is not the case when it comes to Katie because her confidence does not come from within.
"I think I am confident because of the people I am playing with across the board," said Katie. "I am confident with this team's abilities. That is an important factor. Be confident in your teammates and you can be confident in yourself."
While her confidence is a key to her success, Baker has some other ideas why he thinks Beal is one of the best players at her position playing the college game today.
"Her understanding of the game and her technical and tactical abilities set her apart," said Baker. "She has been someone we can hang our hat on and has gotten better every year. She has never rested on her national team experience or All-America status. Every year she has wanted to get better and have this program get better and in fairness that could be said about her entire senior class."
The recruiting class that Katie came in with is still completely in tact and they have been a huge source of support for her. The success the team has experienced can be linked to that class which has five starters in the line-up this year.
"From freshman year to now we have grown up and matured a lot," said Katie. "We have had some pretty low points and some great highs together. We are the best of friends and I would do anything for anyone of them. If anyone of us left, it would have impacted all of us drastically."
The other person who has kept Katie balanced through all four years is her sister Mary. The graduate student in economics came to Florida State to pursue her doctorate and has been a constant support for Katie every step of the way.
"She is one of the most special people in my life," said Katie as she spoke about her big sister. "She is my backbone. I am glad she is here and has been a part of this. She has been with me for my last four years of soccer. She takes care of me like a mother and is my best friend. I love her."
The two now live together and Mary has been a fixture around the Seminole Soccer Complex on game days. She is Katie's voice of reason away from soccer and has been everything from psychiatrist to mother to best friend for Katie.
"She listens to me and sometimes will give me advice and sometimes it is just as important when she doesn't give me advice," said Katie. "She is there to hear me out or there if I need a hug. It is the simple things. She'll make me dinner or she used to come over just to say hi when we weren't living together. It is the little things."
With her sister providing support and a core group of senior classmates the stage was set for Beal's success. She has won the individual honors but there are still goals for her as her career starts to wind down.
"I will regret leaving here without a championship," said Katie emphatically. "We (the seniors) want to cross a few things off our list before we leave. It starts Friday night by getting that first ever win over Virginia. We want that special regular season where we only lose a few games and we want to win a championship. We have been so close. We deserve a championship and would regret it as a class if we didn't fulfill that goal."
Championship or not Beal isn't going to be ready to go when her final year comes to a close in a few months. She hasn't lost her passion for the game and if she could keep playing, she would but on one condition.
"I don't think I will be ready to go," said Katie. "If I could come back for another year, I definitely would, especially if I could do it all over again with my senior class. We stuck together through so much as a class. I am not ready to go but I will be OK. I will miss soccer and everything that comes with it. I am getting old though and my body is getting old so it is time to move on."
But not before she crosses a few more items off of her `To Do' list.