By Official Florida FC

The 2022 women’s college soccer season is underway.

Most of the 11 Division I programs have played at least one match. But, not all results are equal.

Florida State (2-2 vs. South Carolina) and Miami (0-0 vs. Mississippi State) both finished with a draw in their season opener. But, South Carolina is ranked No. 12 in the country and picked to finish third in the SEC this year while Mississippi State was picked to finish 11th in the 14-team conference.

Meanwhile, for Jacksonville University, a 2-2 draw on the road against Coastal Carolina on Thursday night was welcomed. The Dolphins were playing their first match following the April death of forward Stephanie Davis.

Less importantly, JU was kicking off without goalkeeper Murphy Sheaff, who made three appearances for New Zealand at the U-20 Women’s World Cup this month.

North Florida (1-0 vs. Middle Tennessee State), UCF (3-0 over Florida) and Stetson (5-0 over South Carolina State) all posted clean sheets in season-opening wins. But, the competition will only get tough for that trio and the either other Division I programs in the state.

Here are three things we have our eye on now that the season has kicked off.

New-look ‘Noles

Florida State entered the season as the No. 1 team in America, but were picked to finish fourth in the ACC. That dichotomy shows how much the Seminoles have accomplished over the last two seasons and how few of those players remain on the roster.

Four All-Americans, including two-time MAC Hermann Trophy winner Jaelin Howell, have graduated. So has the person who tied it all together. Mark Krikorian abruptly left the program in April. He has been replaced by former Tennessee coach Brian Pensky.

The cupboard is far from bare. Midfielder Clara Robbins has a seventh season of eligibility and will use it.

Florida State senior Clara Robbins picks out a pass during the first half of the Seminoles’ 4-0 win over Alabama on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. (Photo by Will Brown, Official Florida FC)

Forward Beata Olsson scored 14 goals in 1430 minutes last year. Robbins provided six goals and eight assists. Forward Jenna Nighswonger has scored or assisted on 31 goals in her collegiate career. Jody Brown is a Jamaican international whose game adds more technical ability by the year.

Florida State conceded just 13 times in its run to the 2021 national title. However, Lauren Flynn is the only defensive starter to return to the program this year – and she missed the season opener after representing the U.S. at the U-20 Women’s World Cup earlier this month.

Goalkeeper Cristina Roque is back for her third year as a starter. She will be pushed by sophomore Mia Justus.

Florida State may not be head and shoulders above the rest of the country this year. Then again, no women’s college soccer program has ever attempted to repeat as national champions with a first-year coach.

Gator guesses

The University of Florida was picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference.

This once-proud program is on its third coach in the last three years. The Gators kicked off the 2022 season with a humbling 3-0 loss to UCF on Thursday night.

“I’m a competitor. So coming up short from getting a win, I’m obviously very disappointed with that, especially with the score being three nothing because I definitely didn’t feel like that was indicative of the play. But we told our players that we played really hard. It was very even for 75 minutes and then the last 15 minutes, just really a credit to them, they punished us. Tiffany and Tim run a good program so we knew we needed to play 90 minutes strong and we just didn’t finish the game the way we wanted to,” said UF’s first-year head coach Samantha Bohon.

“We have a lot of young players and so that’s part of the learning curve. I’m really happy with the grit. I’m really happy with the work rate. I’m really happy with the team and some of the things that we did on the field was really good. But we just need to do that for 90 minutes and not 75 minutes.” 

Again, it bears repeating, the University of Florida was picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference. The Gators are one of 11 programs to have won a Division I women’s soccer national championship. Arguably, only George Mason has fallen further than the Gators.

Bohon inherits a team that has won 10 games in the last two seasons and was a program worst 4-12-4 in 2021. Bohon spent 15 years on the touchline at Embry-Riddle, turning the Eagles into a formidable program in the Division II Sunshine State Conference.

Three starting defenders, as well as last year’s top scorer have left the program. In their place are nine new faces, including seven freshmen.

Lauren McCloskey and Josie Curtis were two of those fresh faces. McCloskey, a freshman from Georgia, went the full 90 minutes in the season opener against UCF. Curtis, a Bradenton Lakewood Ranch graduate who transferred to UF from Florida Gulf Coast, played 82 minutes in Orlando.

The biggest question Bohan will have to answer is who will score the goals? Both of UF’s top goal-scorers from the 2021 season have graduated. Meanwhile, the front three in Thursday’s loss to UCF have scored a combined seven goals in 90 collegiate appearances.

Sophie White, a redshirt freshman who earned her first collegiate minutes on Thursday night after tearing her ACL prior to enrolling at UF, is one who may boost the attacking lineup. Tessa Burton scored seven goals in parts of three seasons at Colorado and freshman Erica Roberts may provide some creativity in attack as well.

UF opened a $7.4 million, 13,000-square foot soccer facility earlier this year. It will take more than facilities to return to respectability in the SEC, let alone nationally.

Bohan may be the person to deliver both.

No Bull

South Florida is the last team in the Sunshine State to kick off this season. The Bulls host Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday evening.

It will be the first time in four years head coach Denise Schilte-Brown has not been able to write down Sydny Nasello’s name on the team sheet.

Nasello was a two-time United Soccer Coaches All-American who produced 24 goals and 28 assists in 77 collegiate games, but has since moved on to  UDG Tenerife in the Spanish Primera Division.

The reason USF has made the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five years is because there has been someone to step up and replace previous production. Nasello stepped in to replace the goal-scoring and creativity when former All-American Évelyne Viens graduated after the 2019 season.

USF is welcoming 15 new faces into the program. Behind those new players will be at least one constant, senior goalkeeper Sydney Martinez. The senior was an All-American in 2020 and recorded eight clean sheets in 19 matches in 2021.

“There just aren’t many players like her in the country,”  Schilte-Brown said about Martinez. “There are some women with similar height and longer arms, but I wouldn’t call them agile or even coordinated. Sydney has this beautiful frame. She’s blessed. She’s a tremendous athlete. And she’s certainly a weapon that we continue to take advantage of.”

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