FSU soccer looks to build upon national legacy in NCAA women's soccer championship vs. Santa Clara

·6 min read

Mark Krikorian has become well-acquainted with playing for national championships.

The Florida State soccer coach quickly built the program into a contender upon his arrival back in 2005. He took them to the next level last decade, turning the program into a perennial national championship threat, and has carried that over into the start of this new decade.

The top-ranked Seminoles (13-0-2, 8-0 in ACC) will play in the College Cup Final for the fifth time in program history Monday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN2 against No. 11 Santa Clara (10-1, 6-0 in WCC) at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.

It's the fifth time since 2007 and the fourth since 2013 that Krikorian has led an FSU team to the national championship game. He's 2-2 in the team's first four trips, losing in 2007 and 2013 and winning in 2014 and 2018.

"I like to win it a lot more than lose it, I can tell you that," Krikorian quipped when addressing the media Saturday.

"That certainly is a feeling we've had, both sides of it."

The Seminoles are still nowhere near the historic dominance of North Carolina. The Tar Heels have won 21 of the 38 NCAA Championships in the sport, the beneficiaries of a bygone era with far less parity.

While UNC remains a titan of college soccer with a staggering number of championships that won't be matched for a long time, if ever, a number of other programs have risen up to -- and possibly past -- the Tar Heels' level.

FSU may top that list.

UNC hasn't won a national championship since 2012 and has made just four of the last eight College Cups. For a frame of reference, the Tar Heels missed five total College Cups from the sport's NCAA inception in 1982 through 2011, a span of 30 years.

Over that same span of the last eight years, FSU is about appear in its fourth national championship game and is looking for its third NCAA title in the last seven years. Should the Seminoles beat Santa Clara, they would move into a tie with Stanford and Notre Dame for the second-most national titles.

UNC still holds a commanding 29-11-4 lead in the all-time series against FSU thanks to its head start, but the Seminoles have dominated the series of late. Since the 2011 ACC Tournament, FSU has lost to UNC just four times in their 16 matchups, winning 11 of the matches and tying once.

The Seminoles also won the most important matchup against the Tar Heels, beating them 1-0 in the 2018 College Cup Final in Cary, N.C at the same stadium it will play at Monday evening.

Five members of this year's FSU team played in that national championship game two years ago. Four other Seminoles didn't play in that game but were on that team and are playing critical roles this season.

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Santa Clara, meanwhile, is looking for its second NCAA Championship and its first in 20 years. This is the Broncos' 11th College Cup appearance, but the program's first since 2004.

It's fair to think that experience discrepancy could play a role in Monday's matchup, but Krikorian instead hopes his team tries to treat the game like any other.

"I think that we have to take the approach of it's another game. Obviously, it's a big game on the biggest stage that we have in college soccer, but we can't make too big of an issue out of it," Krikorian said.

"We need to just continue to have the habits we've established over the course of the year and the years and go into it with the mindset that if we all do our job, we give ourselves a much better chance to win.

"But if we get caught up into worrying about the moment or the stage that we're playing on, probably that stage can can appear to be too big. We need to just continue to do things in a similar fashion to how we've done."

The Broncos, while not very familiar with this stage, should prove to be a major threat for the Seminoles. They've failed to score at least two goals just twice in 11 matches this season, outscoring opponents by a combined margin of 29-7.

Most recently, Santa Clara looked lethal offensively in its 3-1 semifinal win over No. 2 North Carolina. This attack should be a major challenge for an FSU team that has allowed just one goal through four NCAA Tournament matches and allowed just seven goals in 15 matches this season.

Santa Clara midfielder Skylar Smith (4) celebrates with teammate Julie Doyle (13) after scoring a goal against North Carolina during the semifinals of the NCAA College Cup.
Santa Clara midfielder Skylar Smith (4) celebrates with teammate Julie Doyle (13) after scoring a goal against North Carolina during the semifinals of the NCAA College Cup.

"Geez, what a good team. Veteran coach in Jerry Smith, he's been there for a long time and certainly had his fantastic share of success and produced an awful lot of top-level players. We certainly aren't taking them lightly, that's for darn sure. They showed a couple of our ACC friends what their level is," Krikorian said.

"We need to get ourselves prepared, get ourselves ready. We know that we're gonna have a very good opponent and that if we're not careful with them, they can score goals and score them quickly. They have some really good attacking players and we're gonna have to be conscious of that from the start."

Through a season like no other, split between fall and spring with a vastly different schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Seminoles are on the verge of the most impressive season in program history.

With a win Monday, FSU would finish off the first undefeated season in program history, doing so against a regular-season schedule that consisted entirely of ACC opponents.

Krikorian constantly talks about how he runs his program like a professional organization, helping prepare his players, all of whom have aspirations of playing professionally, for what to expect when that day comes.

This strategy has paid off in a major way for the Seminoles, helping them navigate such an abnormal season.

"I think that that probably does help. When the players show up, they know it's business and that we all have a job to do and that we're committed to working hard for each other. I've said it all along, we have a really mature team..." Krikorian said.

"We're grateful to be here. We're grateful to be able to have this opportunity, but we do have a mature team and a group of older players that have experienced a lot of things.

Reach Curt Weiler at cweiler@tallahassee.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State, Santa Clara set for NCAA women's soccer championship