By Official Florida FC
The fact that most of the peninsula has been under a heat advisory belies the reality that the fall soccer season is near.
Reputation beyond Sunshine State
Florida State’s quest to advance to a fourth straight College Cup begins in College Station, Texas on Thursday night. The No. 6 Seminoles face a Texas A&M squad that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year and should be improved with the addition of Florida’s 2023 Miss Soccer, Grace Ivey, as well as former Boston College forward Sam Smith.
The Seminoles (17-3-3 in 2022) will be led by midfielder Jody Brown, defender Heather Payne and All-ACC goalkeeper Cristina Roque. Brown and Payne joined the program late in the preseason after representing Jamaica and Ireland at this year’s Women’s World Cup.
Florida State was picked to finish second in the ACC behind North Carolina – the squad that ended their season in the 2022 College Cup.
New Conferences, similar expectations
The Seminoles are one of two Florida programs ranked in the preseason United Soccer Coaches rankings.
UCF (9-2-7 in 2022) begins the season No. 24 in the United Soccer Coaches poll. The Knights will make their debut in the Big XII conference with nine new players, including forward Chloe Netzel, who transferred in from Xavier after scoring six goals in each of the last two seasons.
Forward Dayana Martin was a preseason All-Big XII selection after producing five goals and five assists in 1,002 minutes last year.
UCF gave eventual national champion UCLA all it wanted in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. The Knights will look to make the tournament in consecutive years for the first time since 2015 in a new conference that is top heavy with BYU and TCU at the top of the preseason table.
USF regressed in 2022, but will look to send longtime coach Denise Schilte-Brown out on a high note. The Bulls (8-9 in 2022) were picked to finish first in the American Athletic Conference East Division.
Schilte-Brown accepted a position with the USL Super League and will transition into that job full-time after the 2023 season.
This year’s USF squad will have to find ways to score goals. The Bulls only scored 18 goals in 17 matches last season. Forward Serita Thurton is the top returning attacker for the Bulls. She finished with two goals and two assists in 16 games last year.
Florida Atlantic was picked to finished third in the American Athletic Conference East Division in their first year in the conference. The Owls (11-8-3 in 2022) nearly advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year, but lost in overtime in the Conference USA Tournament final.
“We’re a young team, with most of our players having two or three years of eligibility left,” FAU head coach Patrick Baker said in a statement. “They can see that there’s a wonderful opportunity in our lineup because so many talented players have graduated and there’s so many spots available. It’s been really neat to see what our identity will be moving forward into 2023.”
One of those talented young players is sophomore midfielder Morgan McDonald, who was named to a preseason American Athletic Conference watch list. McDonald’s high school teammate, Olivia Bori, will add sizzle to the Owls attack. Meanwhile, sophomore midfielder Sofia Voldby will be relied upon as a two-way player in the middle of the pitch.
Fun in the ASun
The four Florida programs in the ASun Conference are looking up at preseason favorite Lipscomb.
That won’t matter to Florida Gulf Coast in the slightest. The Eagles (12-6-2 in 2022) won the ASun Tournament title in penalties to clinch its first NCAA Tournament berth in five years. The Eagles were picked to finish second in the conference. They will begin with four straight home matches, the last of which against in-state rival USF may serve as a barometer headed into conference play.
Elsewhere in the ASun, North Florida (4-7-5 in 2022) was picked to finish third; Jacksonville University (6-5-5 in 2022) was picked seventh and Stetson (6-11-1, in 2022) was picked eighth.
Division II dominance
The Division II women’s college soccer season also kicks off this week.
There are four Florida programs ranked in the preseason United Soccer Coaches poll. West Florida (18-4-1 in 2022) won the South Regional title last year, but lost a heartbreaker to Columbus State in the national quarterfinals.
The Argonauts will have to replace first team All-American Blair Cowan’s goal production. The program scored 62 goals last year and has players, like senior forward Brianna Pope, who have waited their turn to lead the line.
Embry Riddle (14-1-5 in 2022) is ranked No. 10 in the preseason poll and Nova Southeastern (9-3-4 in 2022) is ranked No. 25. However, the Sunshine State Conference is often unpredictable. Teams that appear formidable on paper have struggled to get results in the highly competitive conference that has produced five national champions and scores of national tournament appearances.
Finally, Flagler College is No 15 in the preseason poll. The Saints have made each of the last three NCAA Tournaments that have been held. Flagler returns two-time Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year Andrea Fernendez to a program that finished 14-3-4 in 2022.