It has been a while since our last burning questions notebook so it seems like a good time to discuss some issues that will have an impact on how successful some of the teams at FSU will be next year.
These questions are meant to raise issues that will likely have a big impact on how well the particular team does next year. We will consider each sport in chronological order.
Florida State is coming off of a third national championship season but that is not the biggest news surrounding this team as the Seminoles prepare for a title defense this fall. Long-time Florida State head coach Mark Krikorian abruptly resigned from the program before the champagne could even get warm.
Florida State (relatively) quickly pivoted to hire Brian Pensky from Tennessee. Pensky will be tasked with insuring that the program doesn’t fall too far from the dizzying heights reached under Krikorian. Let’s discuss a couple of questions that will help decide whether Pensky will be successful at least in the short term.
- Has the Florida State death star been completely dismantled?
Under Krikorian’s direction, Florida State grew into arguably the best program in college soccer. The Seminoles won three national championships, eight ACC championships, appeared in 11 College Cups and 15 Elite Eights. Krikorian missed the Elite Eight only twice in his entire 17 year tenure in Tallahassee.
In the wake of Krikorian’s resignation several players (Yujie Zhao, Emily Madril, Olivia Smith and Mackenzie Smith) left the program. When combined with the natural attrition due to graduation and transfer that happens every year, the Seminoles have lost a grand total of 13 players who were either on the roster last year or who were expected to join the roster this year. A fourteenth player (Kirsten Pavlisko) will miss the year due to injury.
It goes without saying that these are extremely significant losses. However, Pensky was able to retain all of the underclassmen and persuade reigning ACC Tournament MVP Clara Robbins to stay to lead the team. Because of this retention there is still quite a bit of talent left on this roster.
In addition, Pensky has done a relatively good job of adding to the roster. He was able to bring in winger Onyi Echegini from Mississippi State and freshman Melina Descary from Montreal. Descary is a freshman so we will likely have to wait a while to gauge her impact. However, Echegini’s impact should be felt immediately. Echegini was a top 10 player at her position last year despite playing for a Bulldog team that only won five games. Her addition is even more important because she fills a needed spot on the wing that was opened due to Olivia Smith transferring to Penn State.
If Krikorian had stayed and the four aforementioned players had also remained, the Noles would have likely been the favorite to repeat as National Champions. Even so, FSU has been named as the preseason top team in the United Coaches poll. However, without those players (and with the upheaval of replacing the entire coaching staff) the Seminoles should likely be placed in a group of about 10 teams with a reasonable shot at raising the trophy at the end of the year.
Whether the Noles will be successful will be determined in large part by the answer to the next question.
- How will Florida State deal with all of the losses on the back line?
In last year’s championship run the Seminoles finished third nationally in goals against average. The players responsible for this tough defense were Kirsten Pavlisko (ROB), Emily Madril and Lauren Flynn (CBs), Gabby Carle (LOB), Jaelin Howell (HMF), Cristina Roque and Mia Justus (GKs). Of those players only Flynn and the keepers return and Flynn and Justus are currently in camp with the U20 United States national team preparing for the World Cup. They will almost certainly miss the first three games of the season and possibly the fourth game against Florida on September 4th.
How Pensky deals with the task of reconstructing the back line will be the key to this season because even with all of the losses discussed earlier the Noles remain loaded with talent everywhere else.
Coach Pensky was asked earlier this week whether he knew what they were going to do on the back line or if they were still figuring things out. “A little bit of both.” Pensky replied, “We have Heather Payne back who kind of played in a wing back in that national championship (game). We are very happy and fortunate to have her back because she is another wise old soul. She has a lot of international experience so I think that she will figure back there somewhere in that back line. We have got to put together an entire back line - center backs and wide backs. We have to decide whether it’s a four back or a three back so we have some ideas on some players, some kids that we feel really good about.”
Florida State is in this tough position with the back line due to Krikorian’s departure and bad luck (Pavlisko’s injury) but whatever the reason how well this issue with the back line is resolved will be the key to the season. To be clear, FSU will be a very good team (at least top 20) regardless but if the Noles want to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament they need the defense to shape up. The back line doesn’t necessarily have to be great but it can’t be a disaster.
Last year was a very frustrating campaign for Leonard Hamilton’s squad. The Seminoles finished with a 17-14 record and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2015-16 season. However, if you are reading this you probably know that the main reason for the disappointing campaign was that FSU was hit by terrible injury luck last year.
On January 22nd the Seminoles were flying high with a six game winning streak and a thrilling one point victory in Coral Gables over Miami. We all know what happened next. The Noles were ravaged by injury and proceeded to lose six straight games and eight of their next nine.
It was a real shame to see such a promising season get derailed by injuries but the good news is that a very talented team returns to run it back in Tallahassee. Let’s discuss a couple of questions that will help decide how far the team will go in the postseason next year.
- How quickly will this team be able to come together?
Florida State will be blessed with a lot of talent this year (perhaps more than last year) but there are a lot of new faces on this roster. FSU will be welcoming a whopping eight new scholarship players this year - Chandler Jackson, Cameron Corhen, De’Ante Green, Jeremiah Bembry, Baba Miller, Tom House, Darin Green, and Jaylan Gainey. How quickly will these players be able to jell?
The early schedule is not easy with dates against Florida, Purdue, St. Johns and the ESPN Events Invitational. It is likely that this team will be substantially better at the end of the season than the beginning of the season. This is not a bad thing since the more important games occur at the end of the season. However, early games count too and the Noles can’t drop too many for seeding purposes at the very least.
How FSU does in avoiding disappointing losses will likely be very heavily influenced by the answer to the next question.
- Who will provide the leadership?
This is not usually an issue for Florida State. Last year the answer was clear, Anthony Polite. The year before FSU had Polite, Rayquan Evans, Raiquan Gray, and MJ Walker. The year before that FSU had all those guys plus Trent Forrest. I could go on but you get the idea.
There is no Forrest, Polite, Terance Mann or Devon Bookert on this roster. I’m not exactly sure who will be the leader on this team. This will be the first time in well over a decade that FSU will not have a single player that is a junior or senior with at least two years of experience in Leonard Hamilton’s system.
This team is very talented and I am quite bullish on the prospects for this year. However, there will be rough patches during the season. There always are. Which player or players will step up to lead the team in the tough times? There are several candidates but there isn’t a clear answer this year for the first time in a long time.
This is another program on campus that had a coaching change, albeit with less drama. Lead assistant Brooke Wyckoff was tapped to succeed long time head coach Sue Semrau after Semrau announced her retirement in March.
That was not the only change however. FSU has seen seven players transfer from the program this summer. The Noles compensated by adding three players from the transfer portal. Therefore, like the men the roster will have a few new faces.
Florida State disappointingly lost in the opening round of last year’s NCAA Tournament and the Noles have a few questions to answer as they try to get back to making deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s discuss a couple of them.
- Is ten enough?
There was a show back in the day called Eight is Enough. The Seminoles are hoping that ten will be enough as there are currently only ten players listed on FSU’s roster. The staff has told me that while they aren’t foreclosing the chance that a player or players could be added, they are comfortable going forward with the group that they currently have on the roster.
I am less comfortable. If there were assurances that there would be no serious injuries (or Covid) to deal with then I would be just fine with the ten players on the roster. The Seminoles have a talented group. My misgivings aren’t due to any of the current players. There just aren’t enough of them given the uncertainty of normal injuries overlaid with the pandemic.
In addition, there is another issue with this team.
- Is the team too small?
As I mentioned, FSU has talent but the Seminoles as presently constructed are a small team. Valencia Myers at 6’3 is the tallest player. Every team that finished higher than FSU in the ACC last year (Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami, Duke, Louisville, NC State) has at least one player 6’5 or taller returning except North Carolina and the Heels feature two 6’4 players and two more 6’3 players on their front line.
Height is not everything in basketball but if the Seminoles are constantly lining up against bigger front lines that could take a toll. Rebounding will be key. The Seminoles will have to hold their own against bigger squads almost every night in the ACC.
Florida State saw a remarkable season end in the worst possible fashion last year as the Noles were upset in the Tallahassee Regional to end the season prematurely. The Seminoles chose the worst possible time to have a bad day. However, that disappointment shouldn’t obscure the fact that FSU was a sparkling 54-5 before dropping those two to Mississippi State.
Lonni Alameda has constructed one of the best programs in the nation but there is still work to be done to avoid a repeat of last year’s season ending disappointment. Let’s discuss a couple of issues that could help determine whether FSU can get back to Oklahoma City.
- How will Florida State rebound from last year’s crushing ending?
Last year was the first time that Florida State had missed the Super Regional since 2012. However, last year’s result was arguably more crushing because the team had so much promise. Even with the two losses in the regional, last year’s team had the fewest losses (7) of any team that Alameda has coached since she arrived in Tallahassee in 2009.
The good news is that most of that loaded roster will be returning. Florida State will have to replace Sydney Sherrill at third base and Danielle Watson in the circle. They will be missed but the Noles will have another loaded roster next year. Florida State will also have nine seniors or graduate students on the roster. There will be plenty of leadership. The Noles will be primed to make another run but there is at least one thing that can be improved.
- Can the Seminoles increase their margin of error?
Florida State was seeded second behind only eventual national champion Oklahoma in last year’s NCAA Tournament. This ranking was deserved based on the gaudy record of 54-5 that the the Noles sported entering the postseason. However, FSU was 11-0 in one-run games last season. As I discussed in my season ending notebook, there wasn’t much margin for error last year.
The next concern is solidifying the lineup. FSU ranked nationally 20th in scoring, 47th in batting average and 35th in slugging. These aren’t terrible numbers but they could stand to be improved if the bar is the College World Series. At the very least more offense will give this team much more margin for error.
That is the key. The offense as the above numbers reveal, wasn’t bad last year but they need to get better because FSU needs to have more room for error in the post season when it takes only one bad day to end the season.
As always, the comments are yours.