- The Frostburg State University women’s soccer team came into the 2003 season with many goals that they felt confident in achieving. However, they went above and beyond what anyone could have expected setting a new standard of excellence at FSU
The Bobcats, which began the season as the two-time defending Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference champions and who had made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Division III Tournament, wanted to build upon their success and advance deeper into the postseason to make a statement nationally.
With 17 returning players, including 10 of 11 starters, FSU knew it had the team in place to take that next step in becoming a nationally recognized program. The Bobcats did just that, as they went undefeated in the AMCC to win their first-ever regular-season title, claimed their third straight conference tournament crown and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.
While riding a school-record 12-game winning streak, the Bobcats reached the regional semifinals for the first time in their three appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re clearly making progress and frankly, as a program, I think we’re exactly were we expected to be – able to compete and win games in the NCAA Tournament,” said second-year head coach Brian Parker. “We are one positive step closer to our ultimate goal of competing for a national championship at Frostburg State.”
Individually the Bobcats received record-breaking seasons from many of their top players. Senior Stephanie Zych (Guilderland/Slingerlands, N.Y.) closed out her stellar career in goal, and junior Karen Kotofski (Northeast/Glen Burnie, Md.) continued to compile FSU records and national honors.
Highlighting the season were a few important games that guided FSU to its most successful season in program history. In only their fourth game of the season, the Bobcats showed what they could do in difficult situations as they fell behind Eastern Mennonite 2-0 in the first half. However, the Bobcats scored three unanswered goals, with Kotofski assisting junior Erika Neuser (Fallston/Forest Hill, Md.) on the game-winner.
“We proved to ourselves as early as the Mennonite game that we could rally from behind and get results. So going down wasn’t always a crisis situation for us,” said Parker. “Our team matured rapidly this year and was more composed and confident than last season.”
The Bobcats ran through a difficult stretch that brought their overall record to 4-4, but they hit their stride in a school-record 12-game winning streak to reach the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament before closing the season at 16-5, the second-best regular-season record in the program’s history.
Over that 12-game stretch, the Bobcats outscored their opponents 46-10. Kotofski, who set single-season school records with 24 goals and 53 points, chipped in 15 of her goals during the streak. The marks topped her records of 21 goals and 49 points that she had in 2001.
Kotofski also set school records with her 62 career goals and 138 career points and earned first-team All-AMCC and CoSIDA Academic All-America Soccer Second Team honors for the second straight season.
“There are just no doubts about Karen’s soccer talents,” said Parker. “This year she took her preparation for the season very seriously and came in with a good fitness base. Her numbers are reflective of that and I expect her to have an even better season in 2004.”
In the midst of the winning streak, the Bobcats swept through the AMCC regular season to earn the top seed and hosting rights for the AMCC Tournament. In the semifinals, the Bobcats fell behind La Roche1-0 at halftime, but Kotofski scored twice in a 1:25 span of the second half to lift FSU to a 3-1 win.
The victory moved the Bobcats into the title match against Penn State Behrend for the fourth time in the last five years. FSU again fell behind 1-0 before rallying for the win. Junior Becky Rambo (Hereford/Freeland, Md.) pulled the Bobcats even on an assist from Kotofski, and freshman Danielle Carter (Rockville/Rockville, Md.) scored twice in a six-minute span to give FSU a 3-1 lead. Behrend closed to within one with 12 minutes left, but Kotofski capped the scoring to give the Bobcats a 4-2 win.
Following the conference tournament, Kotofski was named the AMCC Player of the Year, Carter was named the AMCC Newcomer of the Year and Parker was named AMCC Coach of the Year.
Carter, who was second on the team with 15 goals and 31 points this season, was also selected to the All-AMCC second team. She had six multi-goal games and was named AMCC Player of the Week twice.
“Carter’s speed frustrated defenders, as she had to deal with a lot of physical play, but she produced goals in big games and had a great start to her college career,” said Parker.
With their third straight AMCC championship crown in the books, the Bobcats received their third straight invitation to compete in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Making the bid even sweeter was the fact that FSU was chosen to host a first-round game for the first time, as Westminster (Pa.) visited Frostburg for one of the most thrilling games of the year.
Westminster, which handed Frostburg State a 4-1 loss in the first round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament, took a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute, but the Bobcats answered just five minutes later when Kotofski blistered a shot from 25 yards to forge a 1-1 tie at the half.
Kotofski struck again in the 52nd minute to give FSU a 2-1 lead, but the Titans responded as well, pulling even with 31 minutes remaining. Westminster had a great chance to move ahead with 21 minutes left, but Zych made a spectacular diving save on a one-on-one to keep the game deadlocked.
With overtime looming, Rambo came through for FSU with just over two minutes left, charging a loose ball behind the Titan defense, making a move to her right to get around a diving Westminster goalie and rolling the ball into the net.
“It was just an absolutely intelligent display of athleticism and skill to win a game single-handedly,” said Parker. “Rambo played some of the best soccer of her life in the last month of this season and deserved to be our hero that day.”
Following the victory, FSU advanced to face Scranton University, the second-ranked team in the nation, in the regional semifinals. The Bobcats battled the Royals to a scoreless tie at halftime, but Scranton scored in the first minute of the second half and held on for the win.
“We knew we would have to fly around and pressure them for 90 minutes, and we did just that,” said Parker. “We also knew that both teams would get chances but full credit goes to Scranton for taking advantage of theirs and scoring a quality goal to advance. We certainly were prepared and represented ourselves well against one of the best teams in the nation.”
Zych was outstanding against Scranton, making a season-high 12 saves to keep the Bobcats within striking distance. She was one of the driving forces of FSU’s season-long success, posting four of her five shutouts in the 12-game win streak.
“I think she made a personal decision to just stop allowing goals period,” said Parker. “It was really her intensity and ability to maintain her focus in our last eight games or so that put us in a position to win the conference and advance in the national tournament.”
Defensively, the Bobcats were led by sophomore Beth Hlebasko (Linganore/New Market, Md.), who led the team with a career-high 13 assists. Playing along side Hlebasko were juniors Teri Galt (Good Counsel/Silver Spring, Md.), Lynnea Finch (Franklin/Owings Mill, Md.) and a host of others players.
“Our defense is based on team concepts and the ability to work as a unit, and communication was critical to our success,” said Parker. “It seemed that each of them took their turn having great games and producing goal-saving clears and tackles. They were all mentally very tough down the stretch and it showed with our performance in the NCAA regionals.”
Zych finished her career as FSU’s all-time leader with 48 wins, 443 saves and 19 shutouts. She also owns the top two spots for wins in a season, posting 17 victories in 2001 and 16 in 2003. She started the last 67 games in a row in net for the Bobcats, and she earned eight AMCC Goalkeeper of the Week honors.
“You simply have to be solid at the goalkeeper position to be competitive at any level, and Zych provided that for FSU for four years,” said Parker. “Her athleticism is exceptional, her instincts are terrific, and she is a fierce competitor. All that helped produce an outstanding career that will hard to duplicate.”
With Zych the only player not returning in 2004, the Bobcats will be ready once again to defend their AMCC crown and to earn the first automatic bid that the AMCC will be given to the NCAA Division III Tournament. The goal once again will be to earn a regional championship and advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
“Frostburg State has committed itself to athletic and academic success in this conference, and our success this year is a reflection of that,” said Parker. “We expect to compete in the AMCC in a variety of sports and it was just our turn to have a banner year in women’s soccer.”
For further information on this release, contact:
Office of Sports Information
Frostburg State University
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-2303