Soccer women head to Florida to take on Seminoles

by Ben Zimmerman | 11/13/03 6:00am

Undefeated in the Ivy League, Big Green women's soccer enters the NCAA Women's College Cup today riding a wave of confidence and a 10-game unbeaten streak. But first-round rival Florida State (13-7-1) couldn't care less.

Ranked No. 11 in the nation, the Seminoles have battled their way to a second place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference, widely considered the most competitive athletic conference in women's soccer and the proud home of seven NCAA tournament entries.

Much like Dartmouth, however, Florida State needed a little time to come together. Opening the season against the likes of Penn State, South Carolina, and Florida left the talented Seminoles buried in a 1-4 hole. In apparent disarray and faced with one of the toughest schedules in Division I soccer, prospects did not look good for the floundering Seminoles.

Then something clicked.

Blowout victories over San Diego State and Miami marked the beginning of a 10-2-1 rampage that placed Florida State back in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. The momentum continued to build throughout the ACC tournament, culminating in a 2-3 loss to North Carolina (21-0-0) in the finals. The Tar Heels, 16-time national champions, narrowly escaped with a win only after scoring on a penalty kick in the 86th minute of play. It is this most recent performance that has many picking FSU as a dark horse to win it all.

Led by Leah Gallegos, the super sophomore who ranks second in the ACC in goals and third in total points, Florida State boasts a potent offense, while the mid-field is anchored by freshman sensation India Trotter. Junior goalie Joy McKenzie guards the net and has posted six shutouts this season. Overall, the Seminoles are fast, athletic, and skilled.

But do not count Dartmouth out yet. The Big Green women have not lost a game since September 24th and does not plan to change their winning ways any time soon. Since losing close to perennial contenders Stanford, South Carolina, Virginia, and Auburn early in the season, no one has been able to touch the Big Green.

Lea Kiefer '04 scored 12 goals for Dartmouth during the regular season, the fourth-best single-season total ever for a Big Green player. Christina Ferraris '06 had five regular-season goals for Dartmouth, and came up big in crunch time with game-winning goals against both Yale and Harvard. In net, Anne Marbarger '05 boasts a .819 save percentage, and would love to make the Seminoles her fifth shutout victim of the season.

The Dartmouth women have come together and are playing great soccer as the team heads into its sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Any team with the arrogance to overlook the Ancient Eight champions is making a fatal mistake. Dartmouth head coach Ben Landis certainly thinks so.

"We've seen them [FSU] on tape. We've got a good game plan to combat their athleticism," Landis says. "We'll be well prepared and organized and have some athletes of our own that they'll have to deal with.Their coach was the Head Coach at Penn for five years so he is familiar with Ivy League soccer but not prepared for how good this Dartmouth team is."

Friday, Nov. 14, the Dartmouth Big Green heads down to Tallahassee, FL, to take on its biggest (and possibly final) challenge of the season.

Champions are not born. They are made, formed in the crucible of pressure and adversity. Now, northern Florida may not fit Webster's definition of a crucible, but even in the late fall, it is pretty damn hot.

Do the Big Green women have the talent and fortitude to make a run at the NCAA title? We'll know tomorrow, as the Big Green's road to Cary, NC, starts in Tallahassee at 7 p.m.