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Florida State 2021 Soccer Preview

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The Seminoles are gunning for that elusive third star.

Soccer: Women’s College Cup Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State Head Coach Mark Krikorian is in his 17th season in Tallahassee. In that time he has elevated the Seminoles into an elite national program. FSU has made the NCAA Tournament 21 straight years. In 18 of those years the Noles have made the Sweet 16. In 15 of those years FSU has appeared in the Elite 8 and in 11 of those years they have made the College Cup (Final Four). The Seminoles were national runners-up in 2007, 2013 and (spring) 2021. The Noles were national champions in 2014 and 2018.

FSU has been extremely successful in the competitive ACC as well. Florida State won the ACC regular season crown in 2009, 2012, 2014 & 2020. The Seminoles won the conference tournament in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 & 2020. This is an astounding accomplishment as the ACC is perennially one of the top conferences in the nation.

Last year FSU finished 13-1-2 (11-0 ACC including post-season 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 before falling to Santa Clara in a penalty kick shootout.

Florida State was the prohibitive favorite in the spring NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles weren’t able to close the deal with a title but as we will discuss shortly almost the entire cast of characters from last year will be back in Tallahassee. The Noles clearly know that there is some unfinished business to take care of this year.

Let’s take a closer look at the Seminoles.

Arrivals

Alyssa Stadeker (Freshman, Smyrna, GA)

Taya Hjorth (Freshman, Commerce Township, MI)

Sierra Curtis (Freshman, Lake Orion, MI)

Emma Bissell (Freshman, Chester, Cheshire, UK)

Maria Alagoa (Freshman, Viseu, Portugal)

Amelia Horton (Freshman, Olathe, KS)

Megan Morgan (Freshman, Weston, FL)

Mia Justus (Freshman, Lakewood, OH)

Beata Olsson (Sophomore, Enkoping, Sweden, transfer, Florida)

Departures

Linn Bogren (Returned to Sweden)

Malia Berkely (Graduated)

Kristen McFarland (Graduated)

Alyssa Conarton

Makala Thomas (Transferred to Oklahoma)

Brooke Bollinger (Transferred to Alabama)

Personnel

Here’s what I wrote about the team in last year’s preview:

This team is loaded. Florida State has three players named to the All-ACC Preseason Team (redshirt senior Malia Berkely, junior Jaelin Howell and junior Yujie Zhao). This team has the talent to win the ACC Tournament and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Seminoles go undefeated in this abbreviated season. The Noles are also completely healthy going into the season for the first time in ages. This is a very deep roster. Therefore there will be position battles all over the field.

Almost that entire paragraph applies this year as well. The only changes are that only Howell and Zhao are on the All-ACC Preseason team from FSU and of course the season isn’t abbreviated this year. Everything else still applies.

Let’s examine the roster in more detail.

The two goalkeepers on the roster are incumbent Cristina Roque and newcomer Mia Justus. Both of these keepers are extremely talented former five-star recruits. Roque started every game last year for Florida State only allowing eight goals all season. Roque posted a sterling .48 goals against average while making 27 saves. Roque’s save percentage was 77.1% and that helped her keep 10 clean sheets. Roque’s stellar freshman season earned her a spot on the All-ACC second team. For her part Justus (cousin of former USMNT keeper Tim Howard) was considered by many to be the best keeper in the nation last year at IMG. Justus is so talented that it wouldn’t be a shock to see Coach Krikorian rotate keepers so that one plays the first half and the other plays the second half. This system has been used by Anson Dorrance at times at North Carolina but Krikorian doesn’t have a history of doing it at Florida State. We will see if that changes this year.

A big reason for Roque’s gaudy numbers was that FSU enjoyed stability in the backline last year. The starting backline for the fall season was Kirsten Pavlisko, Malia Berkely, Emily Madril and Gabby Carle. In the NCAA Tournament, Lauren Flynn replaced Berkely who decided to turn pro. This backline along with holding midfielder and Hermann Trophy winner Jaelin Howell formed a defense that was extremely difficult for opposing offenses to break down last year. That entire group returns this year and (absent injuries) it would be very surprising to see any changes to that impressive unit this year.

FSU has a wealth of talent in the midfield. Along with the aforementioned Howell, the Noles return Yujie Zhao, Jenna Nighswonger, Clara Robbins, Kristina Lynch, Ran Iwai, Heather Payne, LeiLanni Nesbeth, and Kaitlyn Zipay. Krikorian could start any of those players and it is likely that we will see a bit of experimentation here as the coaches decide the mix that they deem most effective.

Up top FSU will feature Jody Brown, Gianna Mitchell and Beata Olsson. Lynch and Payne could also move forward from their attacking midfielder spots. Brown is the player most will be watching. The Jamaican international scored five goals last year without starting a game. Now that McFarland has moved on she is the most likely to get the start and see increased minutes. Brown is a speedster who always seems to make things happen when she steps on the field. It will be interesting to see whether she sees an increased level of production with her increased minutes.

Season Outlook

Florida State has been named the preseason number one team in the Coaches poll. It is easy to see why as this team is loaded. Basically when Madril, Robbins and Carle announced that they would return to Tallahassee for their (super) senior seasons and Howell decided to return for her senior season the die was cast. It is championship or bust for this team.

However, there is work to do before the Tournament and the schedule makers haven’t made it easy for the Noles. FSU starts the season against (9) Texas A&M. However, the ACC slate is where it gets really challenging. No. 3 North Carolina, No. 4 Virginia, No. 6 Duke, and No. 7 Clemson all appear on FSU’s schedule and the Noles will play all of those teams on the road with the exception of Virginia who visits Tallahassee for the last regular season game of the year.

The talent is unquestionably there in Tallahassee. The only question will be whether the team can finish the season with six wins in the NCAA Tournament.

Next Game

The season starts tonight against (9) Texas A&M at the Seminole Soccer Complex. The game is scheduled to kickoff at 7pm and will be broadcast on the ACC Network Extra.