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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing UVA women’s soccer versus FSU

We welcome Tomahawk Nation’s Prince Akeem Joffer to preview Thursday’s epic Virginia vs FSU clash.

Soccer: Women’s College Cup Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

I’m pleased to renew my annual collaboration with Prince Akeem Joffer of our sister site, Tomahawk Nation. I’ve offered him my preview of the Virginia Cavaliers here:

So, let’s see what Prince has to say about the Florida State Seminoles.

It was a very eventful offseason for Florida State women’s soccer. Head coach Mark Krikorian abruptly stepped down this summer. Why did he leave? Wasn’t he in the process of being offered more money to continue his stay at FSU? Who was chosen to replace Krikorian?

Yes, it was a very eventful offseason to say the least. We aren’t sure exactly why Krikorian left but it likely had to do with some friction between him and AD Michael Alford. Back in March, I wrote:

Based on the way that the resignation announcement was handled it seems clear that there was some friction between Krikorian and the Florida State administration. Even if Krikorian simply wanted to move on to the next challenge he could have announced his decision through FSU and had a press conference on campus announcing his decision. The fact that none of this happened and he sent out an announcement to the press without mentioning any current administrator sends a very clear message.

Reports are that he was offered more money and that he would have been the highest paid women’s soccer coach in the nation. However, that apparently wasn’t enough and he still chose to resign. He is now the GM of the Washington Spirit.

Former Tennessee head coach Brian Pensky was tapped to be the new head coach. After the hire, I wrote:

Pensky is also a good hire based on his credentials. I won’t go into his record in detail as it was discussed in yesterday’s article covering Pensky’s hire. However, there are a couple of things worth highlighting. Pensky’s Tennessee team reached the Sweet 16 last year and finished 11th in the coaches poll and eighth in the RPI. He has also proven to be a very good recruiter: Pensky had assembled a 10 player recruiting class for 2022 that featured six players ranked four stars or higher.

Basically, Pensky’s time at Tennessee provides evidence that he will be able to keep the program from falling too far nationally.

In the wake of Krikorian’s departure, Florida State lost Emily Madril, Kirsten Pavlisko, and Yujie Zhao, all of whom might have realistically stayed for their COVID super year. Who has stepped up to fill this void?

Madril and Zhao left because of Krikorian’s departure. It is my understanding that Kirsten Pavlisko would have stayed. The reason that she is not on the team is that she had a hip injury that needed surgery and that injury has caused her to miss the season.

Zhao and Jenna Nighswonger basically tag-teamed in central midfield. Now that Zhao is gone, Nighswonger has taken over and has flourished in the role. Freshman Heather Gilchrist has stepped in at center back and she has been solid.

Is Jenna Nighswonger going to play versus Virginia? The growth in her game has been remarkable and she’d be such a great player to cheer for if I didn’t dislike you guys so much. What makes her special?

Jenna will be a game time decision. She sustained an injury after clashing heads with Hal Hershfelt in the Clemson game on September 25th. She hasn’t played since. Right now she is feeling better but she isn’t yet at the point where they are ready to say that she is guaranteed to play. My guess is that she will play but it isn’t assured.

She is like many players who were recruited by Krikorian in that she is smart, talented and very good technically. She is FSU’s point guard. She gets people the ball in the right positions at the right time. She is also extremely gifted at taking set-pieces. If she can’t play the game will change and FSU would go from a slight favorite to an underdog in my estimation.

I should also point out that Heather Payne will not be available due to national team duty with the Republic of Ireland as they seek to qualify for the World Cup.

4. The ACC is a bit topsy-turvy right now. Pitt sits atop the table. Duke sits fourth. And Virginia Tech just knocked off UNC. And yet, with all your turnover, FSU is just humming along, also undefeated, and sharing that top billing with Pitt? How are the Seminoles doing it?

First thing is that notwithstanding Nighswonger’s situation, FSU has mostly avoided injuries. The Noles have a very short bench with only 21 players currently on the roster so injuries could seriously derail the season.

In short; the freshmen have played really well, Onyi Echegini (transfer from Mississippi State) has been just what the doctor ordered, and the players who have had to switch positions (Ran Iwai and LeiLanni Nesbeth) have done a remarkable job.

How is Virginia going to beat FSU? And conversely, how is FSU going to beat Virginia?

For UVA to win it would really help if Nighswonger doesn’t play. But, in any case, the Cavalier strikers have to take advantage of FSU’s inexperience on the backline. The Noles will be playing two true freshmen along with a player (Iwai) who never played the position before this year.

UVA will also have to avoid getting overrun in the midfield. This will obviously be much easier to do without Nighswonger in the game.

Finally, the ‘Hoos need to create more chances on goal. FSU has outstanding goalkeeping. Virginia has averaged only two shots on goal the last four games and that probably won’t get it done against FSU.

For FSU to win obviously having Nighswonger available would be big. With her playing the top offense in the nation will be mostly intact although the loss of Payne getting up field from her right back spot will still be felt.

FSU has basically controlled the midfield this year. That will likely have to continue on Thursday to get the victory. FSU also really needs to avoid giving up set-pieces. Again, this has been something that they have been able to do this year but now the level of opposition has increased.

Thanks so much, Prince. The women will get the chance to settle old scores on Thursday, 8pm at Klockner. The game will be on the ACC Network.