TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Coming away with a victory for the 40th time in 41 home NCAA Tournament matches at the Seminole Soccer Complex, No. 10 Florida State (14-3-4) posted a 4-0 win over Samford (15-4-2) on Saturday afternoon in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship. FSU scored quickly and took the lead on a Malia Berkely’s first career goal in the third minute, while sophomore defender Natalia Kuikka matched a Florida State record and posted three assists to become the 10th Seminole to have three assists in a single match.
The shutout marked FSU’s 15th of the season and the 11th consecutive home shutout in NCAA Tournament play. The Noles have not surrendered a goal in the last 1010:02 of postseason play at the Seminole Soccer Complex, dating back to a November 21, 2013 match against Ole Miss.
“I think that overall it was a good, solid performance by our players coming into the first round of the NCAA tournament,” said FSU head coach Mark Krikoian. “I thought that, obviously, scoring a goal early in the game certainly helps a little bit. But credit to Samford. They came in and were committed to their game plan and they worked extremely hard. The adjustments they made at halftime certainly challenged us when they switched to three in the back. But overall, it is a good start to the NCAA tournament for us.”
The Seminoles attacked from the opening whistle and earned the first of nine corner kicks in the third minute. Shortly after the set piece, Kuikka drove a ball into the box from the right side and found Berkely near the penalty spot, allowing the freshman to redirect the ball into the net to give FSU a 1-0 lead at 2:41.
FSU kept up the pressure with a strong shot in the 12th minute from Megan Connolly that required a diving save from Samford’s Anna Maddox to keep out of the net. Maddox made another quality stop in the 18th minute, securing a header from Kirsten Crowley from the six-yard box after the redshirt senior connected with a long free kick from Kuikka near the center circle.
Kuikka’s long service would be rewarded in the 28th minute, as a similar set piece for FSU resulted in the free kick directed towards Connolly. The sophomore was able to get a head on it and beat Maddox to extend the Seminole lead to 2-0 for her seventh goal of the season.
Freshman Kristen McFarland nearly made it 3-0 before intermission, working her way into space as Kaycie Tillman slipped a ball into her on the right side, but her shot in the 40th minute rolled just left of the far post.
The Bulldogs managed just one shot in the opening 45 minutes, as SoCon Player of the Year Jermaine Seoposenwe found space on the left side in the 21st minute, but her shot was wide of the goal.
In the second half, Samford made a goalkeeper substitution and brought in Katie Peters and the junior was tested in the 49th minute on a long range shot by Deyna Castellnos, but was able to make the save.
Peters was not as lucky in the 55th minute, as a Florida State cross was blocked out to Castellanos at the top of the box and the Venezuelan attacker drove it into the net for her seventh goal of the season.
FSU goalkeeper Cassie Miller made her only save of the match in the 59th minute, leaping to punch away a shot from the left side by Malcanisha Kelley that seemed destined to slide under the crossbar. The Noles were able to clear away the ensuing corner attempt by the Bulldogs.
Freshman Taylor Hallmon had an outstanding scoring chance in the 76th minute, ripping a low shot through traffic near the top of the penalty box that almost caught Samford’s GK Peters off-guard, but the junior was able to make a diving save to keep it out of the net.
The final scoring chance came in the 85th minute as Olivia Bergau’s cross from the left found Kuikka on the far side. Her header was toward the goal, but likely without enough pace to get by the Samford goalkeeper. However, before SU’s Peters was able to get to the ball, Heidi Kollanen raced in and got a head on the ball to put it in the back of the net for her first career goal.
Kuikka’s third assist of the game increased her season total to five, and reminded fans of her freshman season in 2015 where she scored six goals and added five assists as a midfielder, before transitioning to the defensive back line in 2016.
“We all know that Natu is one of the best attacking players on our team, and maybe one of the best in the country,” added Krikorian. “But what we’ve also seen is that she’s developing into maybe one of the best centerbacks in the country, if not the best. Certainly her quality going forward is a weapon. I think there were times during the game where she was able to get forward and create different chances for her teammates.”
The Bulldogs managed one final offensive push in the 88th minute, earning a corner, but Miller jumped above the fray to secure possession and end the threat to preserve the shutout.
The shutout is Miller’s 40th of her career, moving the redshirt junior into a tie for 12th place all-time in NCAA history. She is now just 15 behind UCLA’s Katelyn Rowland, the current NCAA record holder.
Florida State advances to the second round of the NCAA Championship for the 16th time in program history and will play Utah (12-3-5) on November 18. Location and specific game time will be determined after all 32 NCAA first round matches are completed on Sunday, November 13. Information will be posted on Seminoles.com as soon as it is announced.
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