Longtime readers know that I do not do previews — I just do postmortems — but for the second year, I am happy to invite Tomahawk Nation‘s Prince Akeem Joffer to answer a few questions about the Seminoles ahead of this Sunday’s matchup at Klockner.
What have been the biggest challenges or changes to the program playing in this pandemic season?
The biggest change has been the lack of games. FSU was only able to schedule the eight conference games so it is fair to wonder whether the team can get rusty during the season. It hasn’t been a problem so far however. Another issue is that they weren’t able to play their usual challenging non-conference schedule. This makes it a little hard to gauge just how good this team is because the schedule hasn’t been the toughest. But that is more an issue for us as observers not for them.
I must confess that I have not seen FSU yet this season. How is this team different from last year’s?
Last year’s team was beset by injuries (I’m sure you guys don’t know anything about that) and this year’s team is completely healthy. That is the biggest difference as the team is much more versatile and there aren’t many players playing out of position as there were last year.
Getting players healthy like Emily Madril, Kristina Lynch and LeiLanni Nesbeth has made a huge difference. This team is very deep and talented.
The freshmen class has also made an immediate impact. Cristina Roque and Kaitlyn Zipay are starting while Jody Brown and Ran Iwai are making significant impacts off the bench. Brown has two goals and an assist in only five games.
Stylistically, the possession tactics are still in effect but because of the increased athleticism that this year’s team has there are also times when they will be more direct. FSU is also getting better service out of the back. Madril has been especially important in this area.
I understand you will be without Jaelin Howell for the game. Congrats to her by the way for receiving a call up to the US Women’s National Team. I’m a big fan. Last year in my ACC preview I wrote that by the time she was a senior she would be ACC Player of the Year. Who’s going to replace her for this game?
It’s tough to say for sure because head coach Mark Krikorian has so many options with such a deep roster. However, my guess is that he moves Clara Robbins to Howell’s usual holding midfield spot and he inserts either Yujie Zhao or Jenna Nighswonger in Robbins’ usual midfield position.
Howell is a significant loss by the way. FSU probably has enough talent to compensate especially for a short time but she is one of the most irreplaceable players on the roster.
I understand you’ve been bringing Yujie Zhao off the bench this season? How has that changed the team?
Krikorian is essentially trading Zhao’s playmaking for Nesbeth’s attacking ability and athleticism. Both players are playing a lot however. Even though Zhao (and Nighswonger) aren’t starting they are actually playing more minutes than a couple of the players (Nesbeth and Zipay) who are in the starting midfield lineup. Therefore, the team hasn’t really changed all that much from Zhao and Nighswonger coming off the bench.
Who’s your most impactful newcomer to date?
Probably Cristina Roque since she has earned the starting keeper job. She is a Puerto Rico international player and she has been solid in goal this year. The sky is the limit for her. She honestly hasn’t had a ton of work since the defense in front of her has been so good but she has made a couple of good saves and has helped to steady things in the back.
Thanks so much for your contributions, Prince. This is the first big test for both our teams, and this is always the game I anticipate the most.