TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – It took back-to-back penalty kick games against fierce ACC competition to get here, but the Florida State women’s soccer team finds themselves in the National Championship game yet again. It will be the Seminoles’ fifth appearance in the title game, having won it twice in those previous four trips (2014, 2018).

In Thursday’s semifinal game against Virginia, the top-seeded Noles took down the Cavaliers 3-0 in PKs.

“When you’re seeded No. 1 you’re always going to get everyone’s best performance,” said FSU redshirt senior forward Kristen McFarland. “You kind of have a target on your back, so each game is super competitive. When you get closer to the final game, the teams get better, the margin of error gets smaller, the attention to detail gets even more prominent, and it is usually a low-scoring game– or no scoring like you saw. We went to PKs two times in a row.”

Next up in the championship game is No. 11 Santa Clara, who got past No. 14 Clemson 1-0 to earn their spot in the final.

“We’ve been saying for a while that we’ve been preparing for this for a year now,” said FSU junior midfielder Jaelin Howell. “I think our team is very ready and very capable, but we know Santa Clara’s going to bring their best. They’re a very great team and we know we’re going to have to bring our best in order to beat them.”

“We look at other teams but it’s about our game plan going in,” McFarland said. “How are we going to set the tone? I think that’s important for us and our team is that we come out and we are dictating the play and the speed of play and the tempo.”

The Seminoles have been a perennial power in women’s soccer since Head Coach Mark Krikorian took over the program in 2005, making their 10th trip to the College Cup under his leadership.

“This is the most professional environment you can go to in terms of a college team and that’s really what we pride ourselves on,” Howell said. “It’s something Mike (Bristol), Mark (Krikorian), and (Morinao Imaizumi) really like to establish and ingrain in us — how do we perform like pros on and off the field. I think that’s a big reason why we have success and why a lot of top-level players want to come here.”

For the first time in program history, the Noles finished the regular season unbeaten — a feat made even more meaningful considering the unique season it’s been. Their first game was back in September and the season is just now finishing in May.

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“This is a season that nobody’s ever seen before,” Howell said. “It’s a year that nobody’s ever seen before too. With this team being able to persevere through all of that — and not just the fall but also the spring. Our season’s technically been 12 months. To be able to do that for 12 months is pretty crazy. I think we’re both just really proud of the team and the way that we’ve handled this, handled the protocols, and being able to persevere through it all to get to this place.”

“With the challenges this year with COVID and having a season and the bubble and all of that makes it even more special to compete for a National Championship,” McFarland said. “The struggles and the triumph that we went through as a team to still make it to this final and have the opportunity to compete makes it all worthwhile.”

The NCAA Women’s Soccer National Championship between No. 1 FSU and No. 11 Santa Clara is Monday, May 17 at 5:30 p.m. in Cary, North Carolina.

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