Florida State soccer has developed into one of the very best brands in the sport. The record speaks for itself. FSU has made the NCAA Tournament 23 straight years. In 20 of those years the Noles have made the Sweet 16. In 17 of those years FSU has appeared in the Elite 8 and in 13 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 and (fall) 2021.
The last time FSU was not in the top 15 of the coaches poll was 2011.
FSU has been extremely successful in the competitive ACC as well. Florida State won the ACC regular season crown in 2009, 2012, 2014, 2020 & 2022 (tie). The Seminoles won the conference tournament in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022. This is an astounding accomplishment as the ACC is perennially one of the top conferences in the nation.
Last year FSU finished 17-3-3 (9-2-1 ACC including post-season games). The Seminoles won the ACC Tournament. After earning the number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament Florida State advanced to the College Cup before falling to North Carolina 3-2 in the National Semi-Finals.
Head coach Brian Pensky successfully guided the Noles to the College Cup last season. As always, the expectations in Tallahassee are high but the Seminoles will have a talented roster as they try to go even further this season.
Let’s take a closer look at the Seminoles.
Lily Farkas (senior, transfer, Michigan)
Taylor Huff (junior, transfer, Tennessee)
Maggie Taitano (freshman, Carlsbad, CA)
Jordynn Dudley (freshman, Milton, GA)
Peyton Nourse (freshman, Denver, CO)
Amelia Van Zanten (freshman, Kildeer, IL)
Claire Rain (junior, transfer, Tennessee)
Adelyn Todd (freshman, transfer, Oklahoma)
Leah Pais (senior, transfer, Pitt)
Jenna Nighswonger (Graduated, Gotham FC)
Summer Denigan (Transfer, Georgia)
Heather Payne (Graduated, Everton)
Emma Bissell (Signed with Everton)
Amelia Horton (Transfer)
Mia Justus (Transfer, Texas)
Clara Robbins (Graduated, NC Courage)
Melina Descary (Transfer, South Alabama)
As usual there is quite a bit of talent in Tallahassee. Florida State leads the nation with four players ranked in the top 25 nationally according to Top Drawer Soccer. North Carolina and UCLA both have three top 25 players. FSU has six total players in the top 100 - Lauren Flynn (8), Jody Brown (9), Cristina Roque (15), Taylor Huff (24), Beata Olsson (60), and Onyi Echegini (81).
Although in an ideal world the staff would prefer to have around 25 or 26 players rather than the current 22 this is still quite a talented roster.
Let’s examine the roster in more detail.
The two goalkeepers are Cristina Roque and Adelyn “Addie” Todd. Last year Roque rotated regular season games with the departed Mia Justus. Roque started 17 games and posted a .87 goals against average. Simply put, Roque is one of the best goal keepers in the nation (Top Drawer Soccer ranks her second). Todd is a transfer from Oklahoma but she never played for the Sooners so she has all four years of eligibility remaining. She was a consensus top 100 recruit and was regarded as a top five goal keeper in the 2023 class. With the departure of Justus FSU needed to get a backup keeper and the Noles did extremely well by reeling in Todd. The Seminoles are well positioned at goal keeper.
In recent years the backline has seemed to always be a bit in flux at Florida State. Last year at this time the backline was undergoing an almost complete overhaul. This year things aren’t that dire but there is still some uncertainty. FSU is set at centerback with returning starters Lauren Flynn and Heather Gilchrist. Things are not quite as certain at outside back. With Heather Payne’s move to Everton there are now three (or four) players who are competing for two spots. Last year Ran Iwai moved to left back from her natural position in the midfield. She may end up reprising her role at outside back but as we will discuss shortly she will likely start the season in the midfield. That leaves two spots open for three players. Sophia Nguyen filled in admirably last year for Payne when she was away on national team duty. The other two candidates are new comers. Claire Rain started all 19 games last year for Tennessee so she would bring quite a bit of experience to the position. Amelia Van Zanten is part of a top three recruiting class and she is one of the freshmen who has been turning heads in preseason camp. If I had to guess I would say that Nguyen and Rain will start at outside back but this is really only a guess. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the three earned a starting position. It is also important to note that this will likely be a battle throughout the season for playing time at outside back.
Florida State lost quite a bit of talent in the midfield when longtime stalwarts Clara Robbins and Jenna Nighswonger left for the NWSL. However, the Noles hit a home run when Taylor Huff decided to transfer to Tallahassee. Huff is one of the best midfielders in the nation and will challenge for All-ACC and All American honors. Huff will take over Nighswonger’s playmaking #10 role. Senior Leilanni Nesbeth moved into the holding midfield #6 position out of necessity last year but she was more than solid and will return to that role (eventually) this year. Nesbeth is currently nursing an injury so she is day to day to open the season. The other midfield spot is open. Iwai will probably start the season in the midfield at least until Nesbeth is fully healthy. Maria Alagoa and (possibly) Onyi “Joe” Echegini will contend for the other midfield spot. Echegini was a starter on the wing for FSU last year and she was lethal. However, her future as a pro may be in the midfield so she may get more minutes there this season.
Florida State was outstanding up top last year with Echegini, Beata Olsson and Jody Brown. However, if Echegini does spend more time in the midfield that opens up a spot on the wing. There are several contenders for that spot. Veterans Olivia Garcia and Kaitlyn Zipay will get a long look. Transfers Lily Farkas and Leah Pais will also be strong contenders. However, a new name may be someone to watch. Freshman Jordynn Dudley has been quite impressive early in camp. It really seems that it is only a matter of time before she takes her place in the starting lineup. We will see if it happens sooner rather than later.
Florida State is ranked sixth in the preseason coaches poll. Five of the top six teams are from the ACC.
As usual the schedule will be challenging. The Noles will play six games against the current top 25 - TCU (9), Clemson (25). North Carolina (2), Notre Dame (3), Pitt (14). and Duke (4).
Notwithstanding the preseason poll, the ACC should be a two team race between FSU and UNC. However, due to injuries and late returners from the World Cup, Florida State only had 14 outfield players available for last Friday’s 4-3 preseason win over #24 UCF. Therefore, the early games against Texas A&M and TCU could be a bit tricky.
Nevertheless, this is one of the most talented rosters in the nation. It would be shock if this bunch didn’t run the NCAA Tournament streak to 24. In fact, if this team can avoid major injuries another College Cup trip is not out of the question.
Florida State will travel to College Station, TX to meet the Texas A&M Aggies tomorrow at 8pm in the season opener. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
As always, the comments are yours.