CARY, N.C. – Midway through Florida State’s post-match press conference, maybe 45 minutes after the Seminoles had sealed their 1-0 win over North Carolina in the NCAA College Cup Final, and along with it the national title, the moderator excused FSU’s Dallas Dorosy and Natalia Kuikka while coach Mark Krikorian stayed to answer more questions.
As Dorosy and Kuikka made their way off the platform, Krikorian smiled at them and said, “You guys go enjoy.”
Krikorian was then asked about Dorosy, the senior forward who came off the bench to score three goals in the NCAA tournament, including Sunday’s game-winner.
Krikorian’s answer at first was exclusive to Dorosy, about her selfless attitude, her relentless work ethic and the growth that she’s made over the last four years.
By the time he was finished speaking, though, Krikorian might as well have been talking about his entire team.
“For a coach that works with a player day after day after day,” he said, “it’s nice to see them rewarded on a big stage for the hard work they put in.”
The moment, small as it was, might have been a perfect representation of Krikorian’s attitude.
Just moments after reaching perhaps the greatest professional accomplishment of his life – he’s now one of just five coaches to win multiple NCAA Division I women’s soccer titles – Krikorian is telling his players to go enjoy themselves, then telling reporters how nice it is to see them rewarded for their efforts.
A coaching veteran of nearly 30 years and a native of Malden, Mass., about 20 minutes north of Boston, Krikorian typically has never been one to wax poetic about his achievements.
His players, however, were more than happy to do it for him on Sunday afternoon.
“Mark Krikorian, he’s the best coach ever,” Dorosy said. “Best coach in the country. Just the effort that he puts into this team, this program every day … it’s insane. He’s awesome.”
“He’s an amazing coach,” senior midfielder Kaycie Tillman added. “I love playing for him and just working hard, because he puts us in the right place. We do what he says and it’ll all go right.”
True to recent tradition, FSU’s roster was assembled from all over the world.
Some came from South America, and others from the United Kingdom, from Asia and from Scandinavia.
Others came from right down the road in Panama City, Fla., or a little further in Jacksonville or Pensacola.
With different backgrounds, different expectations and different styles of play, they all came to Florida State for two reasons:
To win at the highest level, and to play for Mark Krikorian.
Krikorian first developed his international reputation with his magnetic personality and his intense understanding of the game.
His results at Florida State have taken that reputation to a whole new level.
“The way he presents himself, he’s genuine,” said Pia Sundhage, former U.S. Women’s National Team coach, and Krikorian’s assistant with the Philadelphia Charge of the Women’s United Soccer Association in the early 2000s.
“I think it’s easy for kids to see this guy knows what he’s doing and knows his soccer. If I was a player, I would love to play for him.”
For a handful of FSU’s roster, including Venezuela’s Deyna Castellanos and Finland’s Natalia Kuikka, the very idea of college soccer was a foreign concept before meeting Krikorian.
They didn’t know much about Florida State or the Atlantic Coast Conference – in some cases, they didn’t know much about the United States at all – but they knew that Krikorian would make them better soccer players.
Put all of those players on one field, it and creates a melting pot of soccer skills that might not be found anywhere else on earth.
“Mark, he has made this program amazing,” Kuikka said. “He recruits the most amazing players. I’ve just learned so much, learning from my teammates, having Deyna, Glori (Villalobos, a sophomore from Costa Rica), the international players and the American players.
“Getting pieces of their playing style and influencing my playing style with them, it’s been great.”
Added Jaelin Howell, a freshman midfielder from Colorado: “I’m blown away by how much I’m learning from all these different players.”
And it works, in large part, due to Krikorian. Throughout his career, he’s perfected his support system for both local and international players, making sure that they have all their needs met on the field, in the classroom and beyond.
That can extend as far as roommate assignments – making sure newcomers are paired with American teammates to help immerse them in the culture and language – and dietary selections.
Krikorian pointed out that Yujie Zhao, a freshman from China, is used to a far different style of food. And so FSU’s support staff made extra efforts to accommodate her as she transitioned into life at Florida State.
“There are a lot of different elements that we look at and try and make sure that we’re addressing to allow them to be successful, knowing that there are cultural differences,” Krikorian said.
“We’re trying to accommodate all these little differences that are there to make them feel comfortable and to be successful.”
All that effort hasn’t gone unnoticed by Krikorian’s players. And it was certainly on their minds at around 3:15 on Sunday afternoon, as they all took turns hoisting their championship trophy, posing for pictures and celebrating with friends and family.
Winning a title, of course, is a reward in and of itself.
But winning with a coach – and for a coach – who has invested so much of himself into his team, that makes for a special championship.
Krikorian might have played his emotions close to the vest on Sunday, but the players who know him best believe that there was more than what met the eye.
“As someone who has been around him four years, you can tell when he gets emotional,” said senior midfielder Megan Connolly, an Ireland native. “He keeps his cool, he’s a professional every day. It’s just like a professional team, he wants you to go in with the right mindset. But when it’s over and done, and you come out with the goods, you can see his delight.
“Everything we’ve done, we owe it to him. He’s changed my life. It means a lot to give this back to him.”