TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Soccer has taken Florida State’s Deyna Castellanos around the world – from her home in Venezuela to Jordan for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, to Russia, where she served as a Global Women’s Football Ambassador at the 2018 World Cup, and to London, where she rubbed shoulders with some of the game’s international superstars at the FIFA’s Best Awards.
Then again, Castellanos is something of an international superstar in her own right. The 5-foot-7 striker has 1.2 million Instagram followers (more than twice as many as former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston), was the subject of a Univision documentary and last year was one of three finalists for FIFA’s Best Female Player of the Year.
Her goal from the kickoff circle in the U-17 World Cup was good enough to be named one of three finalists for FIFA’s Puskas Award, which is presented annually to the goal judged “most beautiful.”
(English Premier League star Olivier Giroud claimed the award.)
All of this is to say that, with so much experience and so many accolades, Castellanos can’t remember the last time she’s been nervous before a soccer match. Or if it’s ever even happened at all.
And Castellanos doesn’t expect that to change on Friday, when she and her teammates on the fifth-ranked Florida State soccer team meet No. 1 Stanford in a College Cup semifinal in Cary, N.C.
“I can get nervous when I’m about to take an exam or something,” Castellanos said. “But when I’m about to play a game, I don’t get nervous. It’s my comfort zone. I feel very good. I feel very confident.”
That’s good news for the Seminoles, because Stanford represents the biggest test they’ll face all season. Yes, that likely includes the following national championship game – against either North Carolina or Georgetown – should FSU advance.
The Cardinal are the defending national champions, have gone wire-to-wire this season as the No. 1 team in the country and are currently riding a 45-match unbeaten streak (one of which came against FSU in last year’s NCAA tournament) that dates back more than a year.
They rank third nationally in both goals per game (2.59) and goals-allowed average (.422) and boast last year’s national player of the year in sophomore forward Catarina Macario.
Asked if Stanford has any weaknesses, Castellanos just laughed and said, “I don’t know.”
“It’s one top level player after the next,” FSU coach Mark Krikorian said. “They’ve set a bar over the last couple years that all of us are trying to reach.”
Forgive the Seminoles, however, if they don’t plan to stand in awe of their opponents on Friday night.
FSU has plenty of reason for optimism, including a blistering recent run of form that has seen Krikorian’s bunch rack up victories over No. 9 Duke, No. 12 Virginia and No. 3 North Carolina on the way to an ACC tournament title, as well as wins against No. 20 South Florida, No. 6 Southern California and No. 14 Penn State in the NCAA tournament.
And while Castellanos is FSU’s main scoring threat – she’s accounted for 10 of the Seminoles’ 49 goals this season – she’s far from the only one.
Freshman Yujie Zhao, the ACC’s freshman of the year, has tallied seven times, while senior Dallas Dorosy and redshirt sophomore Kristen McFarland each have six goals.
“I think we’ve peaked at the right moment,” redshirt sophomore defender Malia Berkely said. “We’re playing our best soccer right now.
“I think as a team, we’re excited. We don’t have the nerves right now. We’re calm, cool and collected and ready to play this game.”
And that, of course, includes Castellanos, who on Friday will make her debut on college soccer’s biggest stage.
Her Florida State career has featured 36 goals – many of them jaw-droppers – and countless other plays and moments that only a handful of her peers across the country could create.
It hasn’t yet, however, resulted in success for the Seminoles on the national stage.
FSU won its first national title in 2014 and returned to the College Cup a year later, but the Seminoles have suffered early tournament exits in each of the last two seasons.
Helping to reverse that trend was one of Castellanos’ top priorities.
“Sometimes when you’re a great player, people will look and judge you solely as an individual,” Krikorian said. “For me, when you’re talking about team sport, the great player is the one that makes everyone else better and gets you to be playing at the end of the season.”
With four teams remaining, the Seminoles have made it that far — to the end of the season, with one of the world’s best players and a national semifinal against the undisputed best team in the country.
Soccer has taken Castellanos all over the world. But come Friday, there will be nowhere else on earth that she would rather be.
“It’s the reason I’m here,” she said. “I’m very excited, and I can’t wait to play.”