Three was the magic number.
Florida State finally reached the pinnacle of women’s college soccer in their third national title final, beating Virginia for the third time in 2014, by a score of 1-0 for the third time. For Virginia, it was three times unlucky, having now gone home empty-handed from the College Cup three times while ruing their third defeat to the Seminoles this season, coincidentally, the club that accounted for all three of Virginia’s losses this season. Virginia stuffed three into central midfield to try and slow Florida State down while nominally playing three up front, though it seemed at times that the Cavs were more 4-5-1 without the ball.
As has been mentioned judiciously in the wake of Sunday’s final, it was not one for the neutral. In this case, familiarity bred caution, with Virginia clogging the midfield to stymie Dagny Brynjarsdottir, and doing it effectively at that, with the Icelandic star having minimal impact in comparison to her past showings against UVA and just about everyone else. But the Cavs paid the price in attack, with Makenzy Doniak too isolated as the frontrunner spearheading the charge. It was telling that Virginia’s best chances flew wide and high of the goal. By the time the Cavs were prodded out of their shell, it was sadly too little, too late, down a goal and down to the wire in the second half.
In the end, Florida State did more than enough to separate itself from the field in 2014. The defeat to Florida early in the season looked less explainable by the day as the Noles ripped up the competition, completing a treble with the win over Virginia in Boca Raton, having pipped their rivals to both prongs of the ACC crown earlier in the year. The Noles pulled off the astonishing feat of shutting Virginia out three times when no other club could even hold UVA to just one goal. Making the Cavs and Morgan Brian look mortal three straight times may be one of the unheralded feats in the history of NCAA soccer when all is said and done.
The Noles became the first team since North Carolina in 2003 to win the NCAA Tournament without conceding a single goal, and FSU conceded just one goal in their final ten matches. It was a far cry from the beginning of the season, when FSU kept just two clean sheets in five matches before going on a run of seven of eight without conceding. Considering Florida State had to replace four-year starter Kelsey Wys in goal as well as center-back pillar Kassey Kallman, the defensive run to end the season was nothing short of extraordinary. Cassie Miller proved to be a quick study in goal, playing well beyond her years in net and giving FSU a steady set of hands when they were needed. Old hands Kristin Grubka and Megan Campbell settled into roles as two of the nation’s most dominant defenders at their position, while Kirsten Crowley proved to be surprisingly effective as Grubka’s center-back partner. Right-back Emma Koivisto was a sensation as a rookie, rekindling memories of Ines Jaurena’s runs up the flank and could turn into one of the nation’s top full-backs with three more years to develop with the Noles.
The offense, so reliant on Brynjarsdottir in 2013, bloomed into an animal that was near unstoppable at times and one which was not shutout once this season. The Icelandic attacking midfielder and likely Hermann Trophy winner was again the straw that stirred the drink for FSU, netting a team leading sixteen goals, an astonishing feat for someone who isn’t an out-and-out striker. Brynjarsdottir was imperious in the air and cultured with the ball at her feet, proving to be an unbelievable asset for the Noles. The club also got the most out of newcomer Cheyna Williams, who slowly grew into her potential with FSU after transferring from Vanderbilt. By the end of the season, Williams was looking like one of the top center forwards in the nation, capping it off with a brilliant display in the semi-final win over Stanford. Add in the danger on the flanks from the brilliantly clutch Jamia Fields, who made a mockery of assertions that she was a gifted player with no end product by scoring an unbelievable winner in the final, and Carson Pickett, who quietly added thirteen assists, and you’ve got a well-oiled machine that put teams to the sword with relative ease in 2014.
And there were so many other little things contributing to FSU’s ultimate triumph. There was the central midfield duo of Michaela Hahn and Isabella Schmid, the former having a breakthrough season, the latter looking like a player of unlimited potential in a disciplined role in midfield. There was the bench contribution from the international trio of Berglind Thorvaldsdottir, Marta Bakowska-Mathews, and Hikaru Murakami, a trio as good as any that any opponent could bring off the bench, with the first two huge showing a great cutting edge in front of goal. And there was the fitness and durability of the Noles, who looked indefatigable for the entire season and who dodged the injury bug that has plagued so many other teams. FSU never goes with a huge rotation in crunch time, and yet, the Noles never seem to pay a price for it, a major credit to the program’s strength and conditioning coaches.
As it must after a new champion is crowned, the question of whether Florida State can repeat must naturally come up. On paper, it would not appear to be an easy task. Gone are dominating center-back Kristin Grubka and left-back Megan Campbell, along with her devilish long throws. Add in the departures of Brynjarsdottir, likely to leave with a Hermann Trophy in hand, and postseason powerhouse Fields, and expectations will have to be tempered going into the new season. But not too much. Cassie Miller was impressive in goal as a rookie and will only get better, while Emma Koivisto looks like a contender to turn into one of the nations’ best full-backs. Isabella Schmid might get first crack at the #10 role, while Carson Pickett should still be strong out wide for the club. And with Cheyna Williams leading the line, goals should not be in short supply. Of course, the club will also benefit from Mark Krikorian’s global recruiting efforts, which will undoubtedly be helped by December’s sweet success.
Those are questions and issues to be ruminated over in the coming months, but in the present, there is much to relish for a Seminole program at the top of the college game. At this point, it’s hard to argue that FSU isn’t the nation’s premier program, with the national title a cherry on top of a dominating run of ACC silverware and College Cup appearances. You’d have to be a brave man or woman to bet against the trophy case in Tallahassee swelling further in coming seasons, but you suspect the 2014 triumph will always hold a special place in the heart of FSU supporters after so many close calls.