Significant preparation, an intense gaze and a nothing-to-lose attitude consumed and fueled the women’s soccer team and its hopeful fans into the second round NCAA game at Florida State University Friday evening. No. 16 Bruno showed up unafraid and with a competitive spirit against reigning national champions No. 1 FSU with the goal of clinching a spot in the highly coveted NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
But the Seminoles scored during the 29th minute and again during the 87th, earning a spot in the third round and killing the Ivy League Champions’ NCAA dreams.
“The result today can’t take away from what we were able to do as a team this season,” said Head Coach Kia McNeill. “Going 14-2-3 as an Ivy League program (and) making it to the second round of NCAAs speaks volumes to what we were able to do this season. I’m really proud of the team.”
A quiet start to the game involved both teams working the ball around and getting a feel for each other. Florida State controlled just over 70 percent of possessions during the first 23 minutes, but had trouble finding legitimate play-making opportunities and often resorted to passing it around the box.
Even when FSU did get shots off, its attempts were not on target, Bruno’s backline stifled them or Brown goalie Kayla Thompson ’21 easily caught the dying balls headed toward her.
“We were playing a shape that we hadn’t played before this year,” Thompson said. “In the beginning, we were figuring out how to utilize that best. Of course, we were a little more conservative and (prioritized) defending. But once we figured out our rotation a little bit more and kind of observed Florida State’s weaknesses and the holes that we could exploit, we transitioned a little bit more to attack.”
With 17 minutes left in the first period, FSU sent in a strong attempt that looked as good as gold. Thompson extended for the block and forced a corner kick. A Seminole kicked it into the 18, which triggered a chain reaction that produced two staggered headers, the last positioned right in front of the goal post. The ball snuck into the net before Thompson’s fast reflexes could react in their signature save-making fashion. This was the first opposing goal against Brown since Nov. 9.
Brown’s surges of offensive energy came few and far between. When they did occur, Ava Seelenfreund ’23, Brittany Raphino ’23 and Abby Carchio ’20 dribbled into the open field off long, over-the-top passes. Their attacks didn’t produce more than a pass or a turnover, but they kept Bruno in the game and comforted hopeful fans who were watching back on campus.
The period closed with Florida State still owning over 70 percent of possessions and the Bears intending to write the most iconic underdog story since the sixteenth-seeded University of Maryland Baltimore County’s 2018 March Madness upset victory over the first-ranked University of Virginia.
The second half opened with Brown on defense, replaying the events of first period. Playing as the trailing team isn’t a tune that Bruno was used to singing this season, let alone overcoming it.
The Bears contained the Seminoles as much as possible, but needed to channel their energy into offensive threats. Raphino and Seelenfreund ran the field and dribbled against incoming Seminoles, but it wasn’t enough to produce a corner kick, never mind a goal. With 32 minutes left in the game, Brown started having longer offensive possessions, but didn’t capitalize off them and often ended up right back on defense.
Even when Brown was able to clear the ball, it didn’t make it across the midline because FSU easily got a foot on it and set up offense.
“For the most part we did a good job trying to neutralize (FSU’s) opportunities in front of the goal,” McNeill said. “At this level, you have to minimize your mistakes in the back. Tonight, we made two and (FSU) scored on those two. Our backs and our goalkeeper played tremendous, but at this level and this stage in the NCAA Tournament, it’s about minimizing our mistakes and capitalizing on theirs.”
With 20 minutes left in the game, Thompson made another acrobatic save to keep the score 1-0. It was reassuring to see, given that Brown could not connect on passes or establish offensively threatening positions.
“(Thompson’s) a big-time goal keeper,” McNeill said. “She thrives in these pressured situations day in and day out. She made some great saves to keep us in it. She’s been a big reason why we’ve had the success that we’ve had.”
And from there, the same situations repeated themselves, just like in the first period. The final eight minutes saw a counterattack by Raphino, who took it to the center against five defenders and left the ball for a sprinting Star White ’21. White went one-on-one to send off a left-footed shot that trickled off before rolling up on the goalie.
The last five minutes showed a re-energized Brown that picked up the pace, realizing that time was not on its side. Now, the offensive attacks were there, but it was too little and too late.
During the 87th minute, Thompson attempted to clear the ball and send it downfield, but it hit Seminole Kristen MacFarland on the back and ricocheted back into the net, giving FSU a 2-0 advantage.
“That goal was definitely crushing and unfortunate,” Thompson said. “The chances of that happening are one in a million. I made a mistake and we got punished for it, (and) it was disappointing because the last 20 minutes of the game, we really felt like we were putting pressure on (Florida State). The momentum was kind of going our way a little bit.”
The play deflated the Bears. The clock ticked down to zero. And the reigning national champion Seminoles secured their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.
“There’s mixed emotions because it’s hard when a season ends,” said Sydney Cummings ’21, “but there’s not really a better way to go out (than) traveling to the NCAA tournament, playing in the second round and giving a good fight against last year’s reigning champs.”
Playing against top-tier teams gave Brown a feel for what to expect and how to prepare for championship runs. “The only way to train for post-season is to be in post-season,” McNeill said. “If anything, I think it’s just a confidence booster for us as a program and the Ivy League as well.”