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FSU Women’s Soccer Clenches the NCAA Title for the Third Time in Program History

The Florida State University (FSU) Seminoles became the 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champions on Monday, Dec 6 against the Brigham Young University (BYU) Cougars. Traditionally, NCAA women’s soccer championship games are played on Sunday, but adhering to their opponent’s religious observations abstaining from participation in physical activity on Sundays, the championship was moved to Monday. This allowed both teams to rest and recover from Friday’s semifinals where FSU beat Rutgers 1-0, and BYU defeated Santa Clara in penalty kicks 3-2 after a scoreless match.

The championship Monday night played out similarly. After two scoreless halves and two scoreless overtime periods, FSU became the national champions in a 4-3 penalty kick shootout. Still, the 110 minutes were actioned packed from both teams.

With FSU as the number one seed in the NCAA tournament, BYU felt the pressure and wanted to make sure FSU did as well. They played with a four-player diamond in the midfield and pressed high on FSU’s defense. Their tactic was effective; BYU had eight shots and three on target compared to FSU’s five shots and one on target.

BYU may have had more shots, but FSU had more corner kicks with six compared to BYU’s two. Each of these opportunities posed a real threat to BYU, as FSU has scored off set pieces on 16 occasions this season. BYU was especially wary of midfielder Jaelin Howell (No. 6), FSU’s primary target in the box.

The only goal of the match went in around the eight-minute mark and was scored by BYU, though the goal was immediately called offside. Although it was a close call, without a Video Assistant Referee, the referees made the fair call and neither team put one in the net for the next 102 minutes.

The most common theme of the night for both teams seemed to be shots hitting the crossbar or shots going over the crossbar. In the final moments, both teams became very scrappy near the goal, resulting in some near misses. In the last minute of the second half, an FSU shot from a corner kick ricocheted off the crossbar. In the final minute of overtime, FSU keeper Cristina Roque (No. 1) slipped on a goal kick, placing the ball at a BYU player’s feet. Although both teams had their moments, neither team was able to finish the job and the game went into penalty kicks.

This was the third NCAA championship in a row that ended in a penalty kick (PK) shootout. Last spring, FSU fell to Santa Clara in the finals during penalty kicks after a 1-1 tied game. Although it would seem like BYU would go into PKs with more confidence with a seventh-year senior goalkeeper, FSU had an advantage over the Cougars in these final moments; BYU went into penalty kicks on Friday, so keeper Cristina Roque (No. 1) already knew which players were most likely going to shoot, and what their tendencies were. This put a lot of pressure on BYU—do they go the same way? Do they change it up? Do the same players shoot?

The first two PKs went in without much difficulty from both teams. But when BYU’s Jamie Shepherd (No. 12) shot next, she shot in the same direction as her PK Friday night, and Roque dove in the right direction and blocked the shot. When FSU’s Heather Payne (No. 2) stepped up next, she buried it and gave the Seminoles a 1-2 lead. After BYU made their next shot, however, FSU’s Gabby Carle (No. 16) hit too centrally, the ball was read and saved by Smith, and the score went back to 2-2.

The next moments were crucial; BYU’s shot was well placed and powerful, but Roque had a phenomenal save with her foot and put FSU back in the lead. When Jaelin Howell (No. 6) stepped up next, there was tension in the air; she had missed a penalty kick against the University of Michigan in the quarterfinals—but she sunk it. The next BYU player scored, and finally, FSU’s Yujie Zhao (No. 33) was up to bat. After a tactful stutter step, Zhao artfully found the back of the net and made the Seminoles NCAA champions for the third time in program history.

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Ally Kukanza is a freshman at Florida State University planning on majoring in Economics. She is also a part of the Presidential Scholars and Honors Programs at FSU, and a David Blaine fanatic!
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