The check-in: We need to talk about Florida State football
(Not that one.)
Hi, friends. No, this newsletter is not going to be about the College Football Playoff. Did I trick you??? Rather, we’re talking about Florida State women’s soccer. On Monday night, I had the privilege of getting to watch Florida State win the national championship in person, being that they played in Cary, North Carolina. I ended up writing a whole lot more about that game than I thought I would, so this check-in went even longer than usual, because I wanted to make sure I still took us on our weekly spin around the women’s sports world.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for your continued support of Power Plays. We’re still running our 33% off sale, and still trying to reach our year-end goal! Please consider supporting if you can — and thank you, thank you, THANK YOU if you already have.
That’s enough of a preamble. Let’s do this.
1a. Florida State is so absurdly good at soccer.
When Florida State head coach Brian Pensky woke up on the morning of the D1 NCAA women’s soccer national championship game, the nerves and anxiety that usually reside in the stomach pits of elite coaches across the world were nowhere to be found. They didn’t show up in the hours leading up to the game, or during the first 28 scoreless minutes, or after halftime, when Stanford’s Maya Doms scored to cut Florida State’s lead to 2-1.
“It just comes down to talent and leadership, belief and determination, or a combination of all those things. Honestly, it left me incredibly relaxed in a way that I've never felt before as a coach,” Pensky told reporters after the game. “That's no disrespect to Stanford, because they are phenomenal. It's all credit to (Florida State) players.”
He was right to trust in his team.
On Monday night in Cary, North Carolina, Florida State put on one of the most dominant displays in women’s College Cup history, beating Stanford 5-1 to capture the program’s fourth national championship, and Pensky’s first as a head coach. Florida State was simply better in every aspect of the game, and their athleticism, press, and tactical discipline kept them in control throughout. The scoring onslaught began in the 29th minute when freshman phenom Jordynn Dudley scored on a penalty kick. Senior Jody Brown followed that up with a stunning shot off the crossbar a mere 26 seconds later (!!) to give FSU an insurmountable 2-0 lead.
After Doms scored Stanford’s lone goal in the 52nd minute, FSU merely got more assertive — Beatta Olsson scored on a breakaway goal less than seven minutes later, followed by another goal from Brown three minutes after that. Onyi Echegini added an exclamation mark in the 84th. I highly recommend watching the highlights — every goal was jaw-droppingly good.
I was most impressed with how laser-focussed and relentless FSU remained until the final whistle.
“I saw there was a minute left, and I was like, ‘I don't think you can score four goals in a minute.’ And then we're down in the corner, I was like, ‘Can we score a goal though?’” joked Olsson, who scored FSU’s third goal and assisted on their fourth and fifth. “It was just amazing.”
“I was an unforgettable experience for sure,” added midfielder Leilanni Nesbeth.
This was the largest margin of victory in a D1 NCAA women’s soccer championship game sine 2005, when Portland beat UCLA 4-1, and the first time a team has scored five goals in the championship game since 1993, when North Carolina beat Notre Dame 5-0. It capped off Florida State’s first undefeated season in program history.
It turns out, the players were just as confident as the head coach was.
“Props to Brian, what he's built here. We're very confident in what we do as a team. We didn't go into this game wondering what we were going to do and how we were going to score how we were going to perform. We knew that and we did it,” Olsson said.
“Hopefully the little girls who are at home, watching this national championship game, they are thinking to themselves like, ‘Mom and Dad, I want to play for that team, because I want to play in games like that,’” Nesbeth said. “Everyone here cares about you and wants what's best for you, and everyone works their butts off for this game, and it definitely shows because the amount of love and compassion and care that goes into what's built here is second to none, man.”
In the past decade, FSU has become the most dominant women’s soccer program in the country, winning the national championship in two of the last three years and four of the last 10. Overall, the Seminoles have made 14 College Cups and seven national championship games, winning four titles. In just the last six years, they’ve made five College Cups, won three titles, and finished as runner-up once. Perhaps most impressively, they didn’t miss a beat when legendary FSU coach Mark Krikorian abruptly stepped down a month after the 2021 championship and Pensky, who was previously the head coach at Maryland and Tennessee, took over.
And FSU shows no sign of slowing down any time soon, either, thanks primarily to Jordynn Dudley, the ACC Freshman of the Year and the only freshman to be named a first-team All American this season. It was fitting that her composed penalty kick set the tone for the game.
“That girl is incredible. Her work ethic — you guys obviously don't see how she practices every day, but that girl is incredible, and just all-around a really amazing kid who cares about her craft, who cares about the people around her,” Nesbeth said. “I mean, she's a little shy, but she's slowly breaking out of her shell and it's been literally amazing to watch her progress, watch her grow. All season she stepped up in a way that I've never seen before. It is shocking. It's phenomenal. And she is that girl.”
To make things even more impressive? Dudley also led her high school in scoring in basketball.
“My first summer here I got a text from Brooke (Wyckoff), our women's basketball coach. She was at an AAU tournament, and she said, ‘Is Jordynn Dudley really coming to FSU for soccer? I'm watching her play basketball right now and tearing it up.’ She has her whole life spent 50 percent of a calendar year playing basketball, 50 percent playing soccer,” Pensky said. “This is the first time in her life she is fully committed to soccer. And so when you talk about potential, it's pretty high.”
1b. Let’s take a moment for Stanford.
The tough thing about sports is that one person’s daydream is the other’s nightmare. It was an absolutely heartbreaking game for Stanford, who were also undefeated during the regular season.
The Cardinal were back in the national championship game for the first time since they won it all in 2019. In that game, goalie Katie Meyer was the breakout star — she didn’t allow North Carolina to score a goal in regulation or overtime, and secured a key save to allow Stanford to clinch the title in penalty kicks.
Tragically, Meyer died by suicide in April of last year; her teammates play with a “KM” patch on the back of their jerseys, and her presence was certainly felt on Monday night. It would have been heartwarming to see Stanford win this one in Meyers’ memory, but sports rarely follow the script.
Still, Maya Doms and goalie Ryan Campbell — who were both close with Meyer — held their heads high when speaking to reporters on Monday night.
“Even though we got scored on so many times we never gave up and we have no shame,” Doms said. “And yeah, I'm just proud because after they scored every goal, we were just like, ‘It doesn't matter how this game ends, we just have to give it our all.’”
“I would just add my favorite quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which is, ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’” Campbell said while choking back tears. “I know personally, I'm a goalkeeper, obviously my goal is to keep a shut out. So five goals is not something I'm happy about. It's not something my coach or my teammates are happy about. But you know, I think it's a great thing. We'll come out hungry next year. I know that those girls in there are fighters, and we're gonna make a statement from game one next August.”
Doms, who is in her fifth year at Stanford, also confirmed she’ll be entering the NWSL college draft next month.
1c. A few other eye-opening stats.
Florida State now has the second-most NCAA women’s soccer championships (four) of any college program behind North Carolina (21). Almost there!
With Stanford joining the ACC next season — something that is still impossible for me to wrap my head around — the ACC will account for 30 of the 42 women’s soccer champions, thanks to North Carolina (21), Florida State (4), Stanford (3), and Notre Dame (3).
There has never been a College Cup without a current or future member of the ACC, and there have been only 3 national championship games without a current or future member of the ACC — 2016, 2005, and 2002.
2. The women’s volleyball Sweet 16 is set, tune in Thursday!
All eight games are going to be played on Thursday afternoon, which, I’ll admit, leaves a bit to be desired, viewership-wise, but here’s the schedule and match-ups:
3. Sweden and Great Britain fail to qualify for the Olympics in WoSo
The international break for women’s soccer has been absolute chaos, and if I took time to break down every result this newsletter wouldn’t get out until next Thursday. So let’s go with the biggest news: Neither Great Britain or Sweden will compete in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Sweden, who won the silver medal in Tokyo in 2020, was eliminated over the weekend when they lost 1-0 to Switzerland in UEFA Nations League play, which serves as an Olympic qualifying event. England, the runner ups at the World Cup this summer, was eliminated on Monday despite beating Scotland 6-0, as it finished second in its group behind Netherlands due to goal differential. (It’s complicated. This helps explain it. Kind-of.) Here’s a good play-by-play of the goal-differential chaos as it happened.
Spain, Netherlands, Germany, and France all advance to the final round of the UEFA Nations League playoffs. The top two teams will qualify for the Olympics — and since France automatically qualifies for the Olympics as the host nation, if France finishes in first or second place, the third-place finisher will advance as well.
Somewhere in California, Alex Morgan is enjoying a nice cup of tea.
4. We have a full schedule for the PWHL season, individual tickets not yet available.
In last week’s newsletter, we went long on the PWHL’s struggle to launch. Well, I have some good news: A full schedule has finally been released! Tickets aren’t available for sale quite yet, but apparently will be soon. (Again: The first puck drop is January 1. So.)
This week, the PWHL is holding a preseason evaluation camp in Utica, New York, complete with scrimmages! You can follow some of the action on Instagram, it’s really fabulous to see the players in action.
5. Women’s college basketball continues to embrace madness.
It’s been yet another wild week in the world of women’s college basketball. Angel Reese returned to action and helped propel No. 7 LSU over No. 9 Virginia Tech, 82-64; Southern Miss upset No. 19 Ole Miss, 61-59; Gonzaga absolutely crushed No. 3 Stanford, 96-78; and No. 10 Texas defeated No. 11 UConn, 80-68. Of course, I’m confusing things by using last week’s rankings. Here’s this week’s rankings:
Meanwhile, South Carolina was North Carolina this past week, and I went to watch the No. 1 team in the country battle North Carolina at Carmichael and Duke at Cameron on Thursday and Sunday, respectively. In the first game, South Carolina defeated North Carolina, 65-58, and in the second South Carolina defeated Duke, 77-61. I had planned to write about both of those games a bit more in-depth for this week’s check-in, but then I got a bit carried away with the College Cup, so I’m going to save some of that reporting for later in the season. But here are a few very quick nuggets:
Both of these games were tight and scrappy throughout the majority of the 40 minutes — the final score of Duke/South Carolina is slightly deceiving. After the Gamecocks started the season with so much offensive firepower and blowing teams out, it was good to see them face in-game adversity and figure out how to respond. They’re young but they are GOOD.
UNC actually outrebounded SC 45-39, thanks primarily to six offensive rebounds and six defensive rebounds by Alyssa Ustby, who also had 18 points in the loss. I liked what Dawn Staley said about Ustby: “Ustby imposed her rebounding will on us. … Sometimes we were out of position, sometimes she just went out and got the ball. It wasn’t really a skill. It was a decision.”
I think Te-Hina Paopao summed up South Carolina the best after the Duke win: “We’re a beast. We’re tough. And we’re always going to have each other and play collectively, and we have a lot of weapons, and you can’t just shut down one person because there’s a lot of us.”
Okay, friends. Thanks for your support. See you later this week!