Florida State had a season like no other. It was a roller coaster. There were the heights of a third national championship combined with the disappointment of the resignation of perhaps the best coach in the sport.
FSU has been a certifiable behemoth. The record speaks for itself. FSU has made the NCAA Tournament 22 consecutive years. In 19 of those years the Noles made the Sweet 16. In 16 of those years the FSU appeared in the Elite 8 and in 12 of those years they made the College Cup (Final Oven). The Seminoles were national runners-up in 2007, 2013 and (spring) 2021. The Noles were national champions in 2014 and 2018 and (fall) 2021.
FSU has also had tremendous success in competitive ACC. Florida State won the ACC regular season crown in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2020. The Seminoles won the conference tournament in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2021 This is an amazing achievement as the ACC is perennially one of the best conferences in the country.
Last year, FSU finished 22-1-2 (9-1-2 ACC, including postseason games). The Seminoles won the ACC Tournament. After earning a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, Florida State advanced to the National Championship Game and defeated BYU in a penalty shootout to win the program’s third national title.
Since this huge triumph of December 6, there have been quite a few upheavals. However, there remains a wealth of talent in Tallahassee. New head coach Brian Pensky will be responsible for getting the most out of this group.
Let’s take a closer look at the Seminoles.
Olivia Garcia (Freshman, Las Vegas, Nevada)
Summer Denigan (Freshman, Union, KY)
Onyi Echegini (Senior, London, England, transfer, Mississippi State)
Sophie Nguyen (Freshman, Pensacola, Florida)
Heather Gilchrist (Freshman, Boulder, CO)
Olivia Lebdaoui (Freshman, Panama City Beach, Florida)
Melina Descary (Freshman, Candiac, Montreal, Canada)
Alyssa Stadeker (Transfer, Georgia)
Kristina Lynch (To transfer, our Lady)
Jaelin Howell (Graduate)
Taya Hjorth (Transfer, Kentucky)
Kirsten Pavlisko (Away for the season with injury)
Gaby Carle (Graduate)
Gianna Mitchell (Graduate)
Megan Morgan (Transfer, Miami)
Emily Madril (Graduate)
Yujie Zhao (Graduate)
Olivia Smith (Transfer, Penn State)
Mackenzie Smith (Transfer, West Virginia)
My God, that’s a lot of talent out there. However, this team still has a lot of talent. The ACC will be the best conference in the country this year and yet, according to Top Drawer Soccer, Florida State has more than 100 top players (5) on the roster than any other team in the ACC loaded – Lauren Flynn (9 ), Clara Robbins (28), Cristina Roque (53), Jenna Nighswonger (61) and Beata Olsson (83). FSU also has three top players on the ACC preseason squad (Roque, Robbins and Nighswonger). It’s still a talented roster. However, as we will see, there is a major concern.
Let’s examine the list in more detail.
The two goalkeepers are Cristina Roque and Mia Justus (currently in the national team for the U-20 World Cup). These two goalies alternated games in the regular season and then Roque took over in the playoffs. Roque started 17 games and posted a 0.56 goals-against average. Justus started eight games and had a 0.38 goals-against average. The goal average against Roque was ninth in the country last year and the goal average against Justus would have led the country (easily) had she played more games. In short, FSU is well placed as a goalkeeper. Each of these players is championship caliber.
The challenge for Florida State is right in front of these two talented guards. The bottom line has undergone a complete overhaul. In a recent article, I wrote the following passage:
In last year’s championship, the Seminoles finished third nationally in goals-against average. The players responsible for this difficult defense were Kirsten Pavlisko (ROB), Emily Madril and Lauren Flynn (CBs), Gabby Carle (LOB), Jaelin Howell (HMF), Cristina Roque and Mia Justus (GKs). Of these players, only Flynn and the Guardians are returning and Flynn and Justus are currently at camp with the United States U20 National Team prepare for the world cup.
That sums it all up.
However, the games will continue and FSU will have players on the baseline. Of course, when Flynn returns, she will assume her normal role as centre-back. Until he returns, the Seminoles will likely include Ran Iwai, Heather Gilchrist, Heather Payne and Sophia Nguyen on the back line. Yes, you read that right. The Noles should have a pair of real freshmen starting from the baseline. The loss of all that talent combined with Pavlisko’s injury forced the coaching staff to make some tough decisions. Gilchrist and Nguyen are talented, but a team with FSU pedigree isn’t used to starting freshmen on the baseline. The good news is that the Noles are deep, talented, and experienced everywhere else. If the baseline can be just average, this team has enough everywhere else to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Florida State returns a lot of talent to the midfield. Team captain Clara Robbins will anchor things and she will be joined by LeiLanni Nesbeth and Jenna Nighswonger. Nesbeth will replace the late Jaelin Howell in midfield. The Noles can also bring in Emma Bissell and Maria Alagoa off the bench. Even with the loss of Howell and Zhao, it’s still a great group.
The Seminoles are also loaded at the top. Onyi Echegini joins the Mississippi State team and she looks great by all accounts. Beata Olsson and Jody Brown are staying. Olsson scored a stunning 14 goals last year. It will be one of the first front lines in the country. Amelia Horton and Kaitlyn Zipay provide quality depth from the bench.
In a bit of controversy, the state of Florida was named the No. 1 team of the pre-season in the coach survey. Whether the Noles achieve that lofty ranking (or come close to it) will be determined by baseline performance, as FSU is national championship quality everywhere else.
The schedule is demanding as usual. FSU starts the season at (12) South Carolina. However, the ACC slate is where it gets really tricky. No. 2 Duke, No. 4 Virginia, No. 10 North Carolina, No. 16 Notre Dame and No. 25 Clemson are all on the schedule. FSU is expected to play every ACC team ranked in the top 25 of the preseason.
As discussed, there is still quite a bit of talent on the roster but the Seminoles will need to avoid injury. Florida State has only 21 players on the roster. Even with all the starts and backline questions, the team is far too talented to fall too far. This will be an NCAA Tournament team unless ravaged by injuries. In fact, if the backline can muster, there’s so much talent everywhere else that a trip back to the College Cup isn’t out of the question.
The season begins tomorrow night against (12) South Carolina in Columbia, SC. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
As always, the comments are yours.