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FSU's Swedish surprise

Freshman Emma Breland is full of them, and 'Noles couldn't be happier.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State freshman Emma Breland blushingly insists she didn't expect any of this.

Although Breland is a former member of the Swedish under-17 national team and a scoring sensation in her one year as a foreign exchange student, she never imagined she would be compiling All-American numbers. Shoot, Breland, 18, didn't even plan on staying in the United States or going to college this year.

Nor did she -- or anyone, for that matter -- envision FSU's ascension in women's collegiate soccer. FSU (10-4-1), ranked No. 13 in Soccer America, brings its school-record unbeaten streak (six games) into tonight's home game against Atlantic Coast Conference rival and the sport's standard-bearer, No. 2 North Carolina (12-1-0).

"One of the common denominators has been Emma Breland," second-year coach Patrick Baker said of FSU's success.

Breland, who figured she would play midfield but was switched to forward before the season-opening upset of Florida, has parlayed her speed and savvy to a startling debut. Her 10 goals, four of which were game-winners, rank her second in the ACC.

"Our team is playing well," she said with a modest shrug, "and the scoring chances just happen to be coming to me. It wasn't really expected."

There's little, if anything, about her journey from Trelleborg, Sweden, to Jackson, Tenn., to Tallahassee that wouldn't surprise most folks. It has surprised her.

After managing the rigors of national team soccer for three years as well as trying to juggle school work, Breland confessed she had reached the point of burnout.

"I was going, going, going," she said. "It was so hectic. I needed a break. I needed something different."

So, like her sister Sofia, a 26-year-old medical school student in Sweden, Breland decided to apply to the foreign exchange student program for placement in the United States.

Even in the small town of Jackson, about 90 miles northeast of Memphis, she found soccer. But former South Side High coach Tom White ran his program with one simple goal: Let the girls have fun. That was different for Breland, and she enjoyed it.

She shattered the state record with 59 goals in 19 games. At times, she scored so easily and so often, White would "punish" his shooting star by forcing her to defend her own goal and not go forward.

Although the athletic exploits of the 5-foot-5 dynamo took on a Bunyan-esque stature in her adopted home, she didn't consider playing collegiately. She left Sweden as a rising junior and assumed she would go back to finish her last two years of high school. (Her year abroad wouldn't count.) Then perhaps she would follow in the footsteps of her father, Ulf, a surgeon, and her sister and try medicine.

But White studied her transcript and realized Breland could earn enough credits to graduate from South Side at the end of the school year if she wanted. With her and her parents' blessing, White made phone calls to college coaches.

Then the calls started coming to him and her.

"I never expected to get recruited, and I didn't know anything," she said. "I was so lost. They were asking me questions and if I had any questions. I didn't know what to ask."

Breland, with the help of White and her host parents, Bob and Kathryn Hayes, eventually chose FSU over Notre Dame and Penn State. But even Baker, who knew she was a key member of his highly touted class, couldn't have dreamed that Breland would make this kind of impact.

"It's been a bit of a surprise because we didn't know where we were going to play her," he said. "She's really come on the last few weeks."

What else would you expect from Breland but another surprise?

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