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Florida State clicking heading into Women’s College Cup final against UNC

Florida State centerback Malia Berkely had a goal in the Seminoles' 2-0 win over Stanford. (Photo courtesy Larry Novey-FSU Athletics)

CARY, N.C. — Florida State coach Mark Krikorian didn’t mince words after defeating defending national champion Stanford 2-0 to reach the NCAA title game.

Krikorian said the Seminoles are playing their best soccer with one game left in the season.

They needed to be at their best to make it this far. Eight out of Florida State’s last 10 matches, including the semifinal against Stanford, have been against ranked opponents. To get to the Cardinal, the Seminoles had to beat Penn State (the 2015 NCAA champion) and USC (the 2016 NCAA champion).

Florida State plays North Carolina at 1 p.m. on Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park. The game will air on ESPNU.

“When you look at the lineup of teams that we’ve played in the last four, five, six weeks, I mean it’s murderer’s row,” Krikorian said.

“You’re looking at Virginia [in the regular season] and Virginia [in the ACC tournament] and Carolina and all of these guys and now you throw Stanford into the mix, that’s an awful lot of top teams and we know that earlier in our season we scheduled UCLA and USC and Florida – a very good team, but didn’t have the results – and Vanderbilt… I would say that yes, we’re playing at our finest now.”

Getting to that point took time. Florida State had to battle through injuries and national call-ups throughout the season. Venezuelan star Deyna Castellanos missed preseason time while in Russia for the men’s World Cup.

Centerback Natalia Kuikka (Finland), midfielder Gloriana Villalobos (Costa Rica) and right back Gabby Carle (Canada) are all players who earned senior national team call-ups during the season.

Plus, midfielder Anna Patten (England), ACC Freshman of the Year Yujie Zhao (China) and midfielder Jaelin Howell (United States) were all called to their country’s U-20 squads for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Those players missed Florida State’s entire preseason.

It’s a double-edged sword. Having top international talent is great, but it means those players will definitely miss time during the season.

“When I came here, I didn’t really know the extent of how it was going to be with all these international players, but it’s been awesome,” Howell said. “The different styles of play – I personally have learned so much and I think that if we can all share our strengths and show each other the different styles of play, it helps the team and our personal development.”

The call-ups, combined with injuries to key players, including first-choice goalkeeper Brooke Bollinger in the ACC tournament, meant Florida State had a lot of overcome in order to get one match away from a second national title.

“One of the things that’s really interesting, and I’ve mentioned it a couple times, is it’s been a very disjointed season for us,” Krikorian said.

“We didn’t have our team picture until the ACC tournament. Everybody else has all their players together all the time. For us, that wasn’t the case. I think it took us a while to get everybody on the same page, but at the end of the day, I think our staff did a very good good job of managing the group.”

Krikorian said he nearly lost Castellanos again during the NCAA Tournament. FIFA asked her to be a representative for the U-17 Women’s World Cup, which wrapped up on Saturday in Uruguay. Castellanos chose to stay with the Seminoles through the NCAA Tournament.

“She and I sat, and she would have had to go between NCAA Tournament rounds,” Krikorian said. “At the end of the day, I said, ‘Deyna, it’s your choice. I’m going to support what you want.’ She chose to stay with her team and her teammates and get the proper rest and take care of what it is. I think it was vital for our success and she made that decision in the best interest of our team.

“It can’t be easy when FIFA calls and invites you to come down and be a representative for FIFA, to say, ‘No. I can’t do it because of college team and my education.’”

Castellanos said winning a national title is as important to her as winning a World Cup.  

“It will be awesome if we can win tomorrow,” she said Saturday.

“We have a great team. We are confident in all the players that are available to play. If I go out, I know that all the teammates that are on the field, they have my back and they are going to [give] a good performance.”

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