Nov. 29, 2012
SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Florida State has been here before. Only this time, they know exactly what to expect.
They've battled, survived, won and advanced, and after earning a spot in the College Cup in 2003, '05, '06 and '07 and '11, the Seminoles are back among women's college soccer's final four again this season. WIth six College Cups to their credit, all that's left for the 'Noles -- a squad that has only been in existence since 1995 -- to do is bring home the first national championship in program history.
"We have such a good program year after year but we need to finally get to that step and then once we get there make it happen year after year," junior defender Kassey Kallman said. "Being the first team to do that would be a huge accomplishment and it would be awesome to be a part of it."
If these Seminoles are going to be the first to do it, they'll need to lead on Kallman and a host of other veterans that have already been through the hype and hoopla of college soccer's biggest stage.
A year ago, Florida State went into the College Cup wide-eyed and mesmerized by the sheer magnitude, setting and pressure that went hand-in-hand with what it meant to advance to the final two games of the season in Kennesaw, Ga. But waiting for them there was a No. 1 Stanford team that showed no mercy on the excited 'Noles and ended FSU's season with a 3-0 win.
But with a setback, comes an opportunity for a bounce-back; and the opportunity to use the experience of the setting as an advantage.
"I think since we were there it takes away a lot of the nerves," senior defender Tiana Brockway said, "so we are able to take away the fact that we can get there and we deserve to be there and now it's more about going and executing the things we need to do and not just making there but doing something while you're at the final four."
"You just learn how to play on a big stage," added sophomore forward Jamia Fields, who is returning to her home state for this year's College Cup. "I know a couple of freshmen probably going to this final four with a lot of people and bigger stands, it's a little shocking still. Just being there last year in Georgia and going back and playing we'll all feel a bit more comfortable."
FSU isn't lacking for veteran experience and know-how from those that have played on such a stage before. Players like Brockway, Kallman, Fields, Tiffany McCarty, Jessica Price (a sixth-year senior that was on the 2007 team that advanced all the way to the national title game), Casey Short, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Kelsey Wys, Ines Jaurena and several others know what to expect on this coast-to-coast journey in search of a national championship.
That luxury of veteran leadership and experience doesn't hurt. The 'Noles have more than enough to be focused on from an Xs-and-Os standpoint against a talented Penn State team Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
If the external concerns like intense atmosphere and pressure-of-the-moment can be alleviated by a heaping dose of veteran-savvy, FSU enters the College Cup further ahead of the curve than it was last year.
"We are definitely going to take everything we learned last year -- all the experience of the crowd and the atmosphere -- and bring that in to our next try this year. Definitely just go in with a sense of composure; we've been there before [and] we know how everything works so we are going in with a lot of experienced players that were there last year and that will definitely help us this year."
Mark Krikorian, the coaching mastermind behind the rise of the FSU soccer program into a perennial contender, doesn't have to be reminded that experience is something that can't be taught and can't be recruited. The players have to obtain it by going through the season-long grind and earning their spot in these types of games.
And for the 'Noles, the long journey towards something that has never been done before is getting closer to its end. It's a road they've been down before; now it's time to finish the championship-seeking trek.
"We have some kids that have been around for a while and have had an opportunity to see and do pretty much everything that you can in the college game," Krikorian said. "My hope is that their experience and their leadership will help carry us through because come Friday night it's going to be a challenge and you hope for the leadership to show when you need it."