TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida State soccer team doesn’t talk much about the way last season ended.
There are no TVs showing the replay of FSU’s NCAA second-round game against Utah, nor are there any clever catchphrases or hashtags designed to ease the pain of a 2-1 defeat that prematurely ended the Seminoles’ season and sent a shockwave through the world of women’s college soccer.
“We all know what happened,” goalkeeper Cassie Miller said.
What happened was a fluke header from the top of the 18-yard box that somehow found the back of the net to give Utah a lead in the 88th minute.
And what happened next was even more gut-wrenching – an apparent equalizing goal just moments later that was disallowed due to an offside call.
A few minutes later, the game was over, and so was a season that began with national championship aspirations.
So, no, the Seminoles don’t talk about it much. They don’t need to.
“It was a fail for us,” Miller said. “Everything is going to be a fail until we win the national championship. Losing in the second round is not what we come to Florida State to do.”
“The bar,” coach Mark Krikorian said, “is higher than that.”
Florida State will take the first step toward clearing that bar on Friday, when it opens its season against UNC Greensboro at 7 p.m. inside the Seminole Soccer Complex.
The Seminoles then host South Alabama Sunday at 1 p.m.
FSU may not be coming off a national title or College Cup appearance, but the Seminoles are still expected to be one of the top teams in the nation.
They lost just one starter from last year’s team – although that one, captain Kirsten Crowley, leaves big shoes to fill – and return all but two players who scored a goal last year (Crowley 1, Elin Jensen 1).
That includes the All-American goalkeeper Miller, staunch defender Natalia Kuikka, who will assume the team’s captaincy, versatile midfielder Megan Connolly and star forward Deyna Castellanos.
Connolly and Castellanos tied for the team lead with seven goals each a year ago.
“We knew that we had a talented group returning and we thought that the freshmen coming in would help us,” Krikorian said. “And it looks like we have some really good young players to mesh in with the returning players.”
FSU reinforced the roster with 10 freshmen, a group that has FSU’s trademark blend of local talent and international flavor. Players in the freshman class hail from as nearby as Navarre, Fla., and as far away as England.
Freshman midfielder Gloriana Villalobos has already made 12 appearances for the Costa Rican national team and was on the roster for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“We’ve got some new talent and new kids, and they’re really good,” Kuikka said.
And, of course, FSU has high hopes for Year 2 with Castellanos, the Venezuelan international who might be the most globally famous athlete on campus. (Seriously: she’s got nearly 800,000 Instagram followers and her YouTube highlight reels have more than 300,000 views.)
Krikorian doesn’t have many nits to pick with her, but he is planning to implement some refinements to her game this fall – particularly when it comes to positioning.
“We’re happy when Deyna has the ball,” he said. “We’re more happy when she has the ball around the goal. So, I think part of it will be a little more disciplined approach to the game.
“But she’s a big talent and she’s got all kinds of special gifts. We’re going to need her to help lead us in the attacking side.”
“Special gifts” might be an understatement. Castellanos recently was picked as one of 10 candidates for The Best FIFA Women’s Player 2017 Award.
As in best in the world, at any level.
If preseason polls and All-America lists are any indicator, the college soccer world believes last year’s misstep to be an exception rather than a new rule.
The Seminoles were picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference and checked in at No. 4 on Top Drawer Soccer’s preseason poll. Additionally, three players – Miller, Kuikka and Castellanos – are on the watch list for the MAC Hermann Award, college soccer’s version of the Heisman Trophy.
But asked about outside expectations, Miller recalled something that Krikorian said at the start of fall camp a few weeks ago:
“There’s 350 teams or so,” Miller recalled. “And every team is No. 1 until there’s losses and wins.
“So right now, I don’t see a target on our back. Every team has an opportunity to win it all, and we’re one of the 350.”
The team’s internal expectations, though, are another story.
And they’re as high as ever.
“I think the expectation is clear that we’re going to go back and compete for a national championship,” Krikorian said. “And it seems to me like the focus and mindset has been very, very good.”