FSU soccer moves to face No. 9 Michigan in the Elite Eight
The road to Santa Clara still goes through Tallahassee.
A Sweet 16 home matchup on Sunday afternoon provided the stage for the No. 1 Seminoles to showcase why they continue to be one of the best teams in the nation. The ’Noles (19-1-2) scratched to hold on to an early 1-0 lead by sophomore Jody Brown, ending No. 19 Pepperdine’s historic program run.
Winning has become an expectation for longtime FSU women’s soccer head coach Mark Krikorian, but the two-time NCAA Champion is still able to recognize greatness from opposing teams.
“I think that we showed a pretty resilient nature today,” Krikorian said. “Our kids competed and fought through the course of the game. But Pepperdine gave us all we could handle, that’s for sure… Watching them play here live, I’m an even bigger fan today than I was yesterday.”
Playing two games in a three-day span, the ’Noles faced a well-coached team under sunny November skies but still managed to get a result, earning FSU’s 50th home win in NCAA postseason history.
“I think it takes the right mentality and people around you,” senior Jaelin Howell said. “Mark and the coaching staff preach ‘how to be a pro’ and I think our team really embraces that. With the older players and experience, we were able to implement that.”
The 2021 ACC Midfielder of Year once again played the whole 90 minutes alongside FSU’s preferred backline headlined by redshirt seniors Emily Madril and Gabby Carle, senior Kirsten Pavlisko and sophomore Lauren Flynn. The veteran defenders pitched their 11th shutout of the season and have started 20 out of 22 games this season.
Florida State was forced to creatively build up on Sunday, with Howell being man-marked through the middle for the majority of the game. Facing a high press, Flynn and sophomore goalie Cristina Roque displayed their technical ability playing through the air.
In the fourth minute, Roque found Howell, who was immediately challenged but managed to head the ball to redshirt senior Clara Robbins. The Stafford, Va. native played an aerial through ball near the sideline to Brown, who only needed two touches to hit the far post and notch her third goal of the postseason.
“I think our team is built to play against many different styles, shapes, and systems,” Krikorian said. “We have the quality to play behind and in front of the backline. We have the ability to play wide and control tempo.”
Pepperdine did not bow down to the Garnet and Gold at any point of the game despite conceding early. The Waves switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation stifling Florida State’s offense. Krikorian’s team did not panic, however, as their experience served them well in knowing how to handle the Pepperdine pressure.
“With Gabby Carle, we have that Swiss army knife,” Krikorian said. “It’s just a matter of adjusting her positioning a little bit and having her bump into the midfield… They certainly did have us having to react some, but this year we’ve seen it all.”
In the second half, the ’Noles conceded even more possessions as fatigue seemed to affect them. Despite FSU having their second-lowest shot total of the season at nine, Pepperdine never managed to get an attempt on target.
The Seminoles resorted to counter-attacking to sustain the Waves’ energetic effort. Florida State’s counter-press saw them collectively win second balls leading to dangerous transition plays that saw them twice an offsides call away from putting the nail in the coffin.
“We did what we needed to do,” Krikorian said. “They say as you know ‘survive and advance’ and I would say that’s what it was today.”
For a team as talented and well-coached as FSU, their leadership and fitness will be X-factors once again when they host No. 9 Michigan on Friday, Nov. 26 at the Seminole Soccer Complex with a trip to the Final Four on the line.