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Florida State 2019 Soccer Preview

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The Seminoles will be seeking a repeat championship.

NCAA Soccer: DI Women’s College Cup Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State Head Coach Mark Krikorian is in his 15th season in Tallahassee. In that time he has elevated the Seminoles into an elite national program. FSU has made the NCAA Tournament 19 straight years. In 16 of those years the Noles have made the Sweet 16. In 13 of those years FSU has appeared in the Elite 8 and in 10 of those years they have made the College Cup (Final Four). The Seminoles were national runners-up in 2007 & 2013 and the Noles were national champions in 2014 and of course 2018.

FSU has been extremely successful in the competitive ACC as well. Florida State won the ACC regular season crown in 2009, 2012 & 2014. The Seminoles won the conference tournament in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 & 2018. This is an astounding accomplishment as the ACC is perenially one of the top conferences in the nation.

In last year’s championship season FSU finished 20-4-3 (9-4-1 ACC including post-season games). Florida State won the ACC tournament crown last year with a 3-2 victory over North Carolina. In the NCAA Tournament final the Noles again defeated the Tar Heels this time 1-0 to capture the second national championship in program history.

The Seminoles will attempt to add a third star to their jerseys this year. Let’s take a deeper look the Noles.

Arrivals

Alyssa Conarton (Freshman, Bradenton, FL)

Ali Kalayjian (Freshman, Katonah, NY)

Paige LaBerge (Freshman, Manchester, NH)

Leilanni Nesbeth (Freshman, Saint David’s, Bermuda)

Abbey Newton (Sophomore, LSU transfer, Fleming Island, FL)

Jenna Nighswonger (Freshman, Huntington Beach, CA)

Heather Payne (Freshman, Castle Park, Ireland)

Taylor Radecki (Freshman, Saint Augustine, FL)

Departures

Megan Connolly (Graduated)

Anna Patten (Transferred to South Carolina)

Dallas Dorosy (Graduated)

Bella Dorosy (Leave of Absence)

Kaycie Tillman (Graduated)

Taylor Hallmon (Transferred to Northwestern)

Natalia Kuikka (Graduated)

Olivia Bergau (Graduated)

Macayla Edwards (Graduated)

Alexa Orrante (Graduated)

Personnel

This is arguably the most talented team in the nation. FSU features four players who were named to the Mac Hermann trophy watch list (senior Deyna Castellanos, redshirt junior Malia Berkely, sophomore Jaelin Howell and sophomore Yujie Zhao). Florida State is the only team in the nation with more than three players on the watch list. Those four players were also named to the 2019 preseason all-ACC team. FSU was the only team with four players on the team. This team certainly has the talent to return to the College Cup if not win the title again. There will be position battles throughout preseason camp and extending into the regular season to determine playing time.

These battles begin in goal for FSU. The two keepers on the roster are redshirt sophomore Brooke Bollinger and redshirt senior Caroline Jeffers. Bollinger started in goal for FSU last year and played well. In 20 games (and starts) last year Bollinger allowed nine goals (.45 avg) while recording 38 saves. However, Bollinger went down for the season last year in the ACC Championship Game against North Carolina. Jeffers was asked to step in and she succumbed to nerves and immediately conceded a goal to the Heels. Fortunately for FSU Jeffers found her sea legs quickly after that and she was rock solid for the rest of the year recording 12 saves in nine games while conceding only four goals (.52 avg). Jeffers also made some extremely huge saves including her massive save in the NCAA tournament shootout against USC. Krikorian has two tested and talented keepers on the roster and either of them could eventually win the job.

The Seminoles have the talent and versatility to play several different formations but FSU figures to play mostly in a 4-3-3 alignment. The backline loses a great player in Natalia Kuikka (Top Drawer Soccer 2nd team All-American and United Soccer Coaches 3rd team All-American) but fortunately for Nole fans plenty of talent remains. FSU returns three starters in Malia Berkely, Kirsten Pavlisko and Gabby Carle. Unfortunately Emily Madril will be lost for the second straight season due to injury. However, Florida State will still have plenty of talent on the backline as Clara Robbins returns from injury to compete with freshmen Ali Kalayjian and Heather Payne for the other starting spot.

The Noles have two of the best players in the nation in the midfield in Zhao and Howell. Either of them could start for basically any team in the nation and they are locks to start for FSU. There will be a fierce battle for the third midfield spot between five star freshman Jenna Nighswonger, LSU transfer Abbey Newton and veteran Gloriana Villalobos. Nighswonger is one of the best players in the 2019 class. She is talented enough to start immediately even on a team as stacked in the midfield as FSU. However, Newton started all 24 games last year for LSU earning a spot on the all-SEC freshman team. Not to be forgotten is Villalobos who is talented enough to have earned 12 caps for the Costa Rica national team. Florida State has one of the best mid-fields in the nation.

Deyna Castellanos has decided to return for her senior season and FSU fans couldn’t be happier. The former FIFA Best Female Player of the Year finalist is obviously a superstar and she proved why again last year leading the Seminoles in goals (10), assists (8) and points (28). Castellanos continues to grow as a player as her playmaking and even defense has improved every year that she has been in Tallahassee. If her best season is yet to come the rest of the ACC (and nation) will have a major problem. The Seminoles will have several players to choose from to put up top next to Castellanos. Kristen McFarland started almost every game last year for Florida State and she could get the nod again this year. Kristina Lynch was putting together a fine freshman season last year until she went down with a season ending knee injury. Freshman Nesbeth is a player with plenty of speed who could eventually make a difference. She has been nursing a knee injury in the preseason but when healthy she could have an impact especially off the bench running against tired defenders.

This team also has plenty of versatility as some players play different positions for FSU than they do for their national teams (ex: Gabby Carle and Heather Payne). Therefore, Coach Krikorian has plenty of options when it comes to determining lineups. The positions I detail above are subject to change due to this versatility.

There are no perfect teams and while FSU is very good they aren’t perfect. Florida State prefers to play a possession style of soccer and they are very good at it. Krikorian therefore recruits to that system. This leads the Noles to prefer players that are very good technically and have high soccer IQs. However, FSU can sometimes have trouble with teams that are very athletic especially up top. Last year this difficulty showed up in losses to Clemson and Boston College where the Noles were beaten by superior speed (Jenna Bike, BC) and athleticism (Miranda Weslake, Clemson).

Season Outlook

Florida State has all the ingredients of a national championship contender. The Noles are loaded with talent. They also have experience with five players who are either seniors or redshirt juniors. If that isn’t enough the Seminoles obviously have recent championship pedigree. To top it off FSU has outstanding coaching (and people are noticing). Obviously this doesn’t mean that the Noles are locks for another title. There are other excellent teams out there (North Carolina, Stanford, UCLA, USC, etc.) and it takes a fair bit of luck for even the best teams to win a championship. However, there is a reason that the Seminoles have been named preseason #1 in the United Soccer Coaches poll with 33 out of 35 first place votes. This is an extremely strong roster. The Seminoles are well positioned to earn their 11th College Cup berth and a third title may not be far behind.

Next Game

Florida State will open the season on August 22nd when they welcome Texas Christian to the Seminole Soccer Complex. TCU finished last season 19th in the RPI. The game is scheduled to kick off at 7pm and will be broadcast on ACCNetwork Extra.