Florida State senior Kelly Rowland hadn't seen anything like it and never dreamed she would.
The stands were packed with boisterous fans, 1,754 of them. And then, when the game ended last week, the Seminoles' 2-1 win against Clemson was punctuated by a light show.
"It was such an amazing environment," she said. "I mean, fireworks were going off."
But then FSU has itself shot up brightly into the rarefied air of college soccer.
With that come-from-behind win, the Seminoles (18-3-4) advanced to the national semifinals for the second straight year and third time in the past four. In that span, only last year's runnerup, UCLA, has made it to the College Cup more often (2003-06).
Those Bruins (21-3-0) play perennial power North Carolina (25-1-0) at 3:30 today (ESPN2), and FSU meets Notre Dame (24-0-1) at 6 (ESPNU) in Cary, N.C. The championship game is at 12:30 Sunday and will be carried live on ESPN2.
FSU started the season among the favorites to return to Cary and climbed to No. 1 in Soccer America's poll after beating defending national champion Portland 2-1 in its opener.
"Compared to last year, it's been a tougher road," said junior defender Libby Gianeskis, a former Tarpon Springs standout. "Last year, we kind of had the surprise factor. We had a new coach and a lot of new players and nobody was expecting us (to be a title contender). This year, people were expecting us to get there."
FSU has lost in the semifinals in its previous two trips, 2-0 to UConn in 2003 and 4-0 to UCLA last year. But these Seminoles have played their best in the biggest games, which coach Mark Krikorian finds encouraging.
"We have pretty good character in this group," he said. "The games we had to compete at the highest level or we'd have no chance to win, our group has done a pretty good job of that."
"The past College Cups, we were just extremely happy to be there," do-everything senior forward/midfielder India Trotter said. "It was kind of a shock that our program had gotten to that height. Now, it's more of a mind-set that we want to win the national championship."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (813) 226-3347.