Florida State (13-6-1) did not enter the NCAA Tournament with a lot of momentum. In their last regular season game the Seminoles had to settle for a 2-2 tie at Clemson in a game that they should have won. Because of that the Noles dropped from a potential four seed in the ACC Tournament to a seven seed. Had they secured the four seed the Noles would have gotten to play Virginia in Tallahassee in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Instead FSU was forced to travel to North Carolina to take on the #2 ranked Tar Heels. FSU was mostly dominated in the UNC game and lost 2-1. That game did not bode well for FSU’s chances in the NCAAs because they got away from the possession style that they usually play so well.
However, the one good thing about going out of the ACC Tournament early was that it gave the Seminoles time to regroup. FSU had 13 days between the UNC game and the Ole Miss game in the first round and clearly the Seminoles used the time wisely. Against the Rebels FSU won 5-0 in one of the best games they played all season. Ole Miss is not a scrub team (#40 RPI) but FSU made them look like novices. The only negative from the game is that superstar striker Deyna Castellanos left the game midway through the second half with a lower leg injury. Thankfully for FSU fans (and soccer fans) she returned for the second round game.
FSU moved on to play Arizona (11-4-4) in the second round. Arizona is ranked 26th in the RPI and 28th by the coaches (FSU is #16 RPI and 27 coaches). The Wildcats beat TCU 2-1 to advance to play FSU in Palo Alto.
The game started off well for FSU as they were able to establish their possession style. The Cats were able to get two early shots on goal but after that FSU got their teeth into the game and forced Arizona keeper Lainey Burdett to make four saves in the first 25 minutes.
FSU kept up the pressure and they finally broke through in the 44th minute. Midfielder Kaycie Tillman took the ball up the right flank. She ran into pressure from the defense but she managed to get a cross into the box where Castellanos was able to toe poke it into the left side of the goal to give FSU a 1-0 lead. It was the 18th goal on the year for Castellanos which is second nationally.
In the second half the Seminoles kept up the pressure and the dominance in possession. In the 78th minute Arizona was called for a handball about two yards outside of the box. Castellanos stepped up and floated a beautiful ball over the wall that curled just inside of the left goal post. Burdett knew she was beaten as she barely moved. This goal put the Noles up 2-0. It was the 19th of the year for Castellanos.
From there Arizona tried to mount a furious comeback. They put pressure on FSU but the Noles didn’t crack and FSU came away with the 2-0 victory.
In their last five games before the tournament FSU went 1-3-1. This was due to a variety of factors including tough schedule, players being out because of national team commitments and poor defense especially on set pieces. However, it seems that FSU has been able to correct many of these issues during the 13 day break. It doesn’t hurt that they are again at full strength.
Florida State is playing some of their best soccer of the season at just the right time. This is a young team. FSU started four true freshmen, a redshirt freshman and a sophomore. This team is really a year away. However, these young Noles may be growing up before our eyes.
Florida State advances to the Sweet 16 and will stay in Palo Alto to face (#1) Stanford who beat Auburn 2-0. The Sweet 16 game will be on Sunday.