Photo courtesy of Florida State athletics
The NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament bracket was unveiled on Monday afternoon and Florida State was awarded the No. 1 overall seed.
On paper, that seems completely normal. The Seminoles are 11-0 with eight shutouts. They’re No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll with 32 of a possible 34 first-place votes.
So what’s the big deal?
The oddity in this case is that FSU hasn’t played a real match in more than five months. It has played a few exhibitions against professional teams.
A Look Back
FSU went through its ACC-only fall schedule unblemished. After going 8-0 during the regular season, the Seminoles shut out both Notre Dame and Duke before holding off then No. 1 North Carolina in the ACC Championship, 3-2.
There is no shortage of talent for the Seminoles. Despite playing only 11 games, FSU has five players who have at least 10 points for the season. Clara Robbins led the way with 15 points while Jenna Nighswonger and Leilanni Nesbeth each tallied 13. Not among the five for FSU is perhaps its best player in Yujie Zhao.
Entering the NCAA Tournament, FSU ranks fourth nationally in scoring offense. Among Power 5 programs, FSU is first in that category. FSU also ranks 27th nationally in goals against average and fourth in shutout percentage.
Can They Do it After the Long Layoff?
As good as FSU was in the fall, coming back after five months off and competing with the nation’s best is a tall task. The Seminoles will open the NCAA Tournament in the round of 32 on May 1 with the winner of Elon and Milwaukee.
If there is a reason for optimism that FSU can navigate the gauntlet, it has to be the experience. While FSU has a lot of key young players, ladies like Zhao, Jaelin Howell, Kirsten Pavlisko, Malia Berkely, Gabby Carle, Kristen McFarland and goalkeeper Brooke Bollinger played key roles in FSU’s 2018 national championship.
Although FSU is largely a perennial power, the 2018 squad played best with its back to the wall. The Seminoles finished seventh in the ACC during the regular season before knocking off the top three seeds in the ACC Tournament to win the conference and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After knocking off Loyola Chicago, South Florida and USC, FSU finished the tournament with three straight shutouts. In the College Cup, FSU knocked off previously undefeated Stanford before Dallas Dorosy’s late goal lifted the Seminoles past North Carolina for the title, 1-0.
In 2018 for FSU, it was a case of getting hot at the right time. For the 2020-21, the Seminoles will have to rekindle the magic from the fall season.
That certainly seems like a tall task, but this FSU team isn’t one to doubt. Whether or not the Seminoles can return to form five months later remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: few teams will be more rested.