Victorious FSU soccer returns home, celebrates its third national title in eight years

Curt Weiler
Tallahassee Democrat

The wait was definitely worth it for the Florida State soccer team.

The Seminoles got a warm welcome home that was two years in the making Tuesday evening when they arrived back on FSU's campus Tuesday evening. The Marching Chiefs and a large crowd of FSU fans awaited them after they won the program's third national championship Monday night in Santa Clara, Calif.

As FSU exited the bus in front of the Unconquered Statue led by team captain Jaelin Howell carrying the NCAA trophy, it was a moment of pure exultation from players, staff members and fans alike.

"Seeing all these fans supporting our team and our program, I don't know how you can ask for a whole lot more than that," FSU head coach Mark Krikorian said.

"We as a team are grateful for the support that we have here in the community and the university as well."

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Less than seven months earlier, the Seminoles fell in a penalty kick shootout to Santa Clara in the national title match, coming up one win short of the first undefeated season in program history.

There was no undefeated season this time, but FSU avenged last season's demons this fall, finishing off a 22-1-2 season with a 4-3 penalty kick shootout win over BYU to bring home the program's third NCAA title, all of which have come since 2014.

"It never gets old, does it? It's a joy," FSU director of athletics David Coburn said of winning the title, which he said is FSU's 18th national title across all sports.

"I will say this: National championships are tough. They are hard to win in any sport, at any level. When you get to the Final Four, I don't care who you are, you're going to play some tough competition. This is a team that lost in the finals last year and came back and decided it wasn't going to happen again."

For Coburn, it's a fitting sendoff as he nears retirement after three-plus years as FSU's AD. It's also an ending fitting the start to his tenure as the FSU soccer team won its second national title while he was still the interim AD back in December of 2018.

For new FSU president Richard McCollough, it was quite the introduction to FSU's championship pedigree less than four months into his tenure in Tallahassee.

Over the last two seasons -- a period that has included a COVID-affected season, the 2020 NCAA Tournament being pushed to spring of 2021 and a short offseason before the regularly scheduled 2021 season -- the Seminoles have amassed a 35-2-4 record, a pair of national title appearances and one NCAA Championship.

"Like the rest of the Florida State family, we were on the edge of our seats. But we had no doubt that you'd bring home the title..." McCullough said at the ceremony at FSU's Champions Club following the team's arrival.

"Coach Mark, you've built the best soccer program in the country and brought such prestige to Florida State University. To win three national titles in (eight) years is simply amazing."

Dating back to the start of this year's preseason camp, the Seminoles didn't shy away from discussing their season-long goal of avenging the prior season's deflating ending. 

This made the aftermath of Monday's win for the Seminoles, who returned all but one player from that team that came up one win short, that much sweeter.

The Florida State University soccer team poses for photos with the NCAA National Championship trophy in the Champions Club at Doak Campbell Stadium Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.

"We weren't gonna come back home this time without a trophy..." Howell said.

"It's the goal every year. It's the standard every year for this program. Especially since we did lose so close in the spring, it was in the back of our heads always. As we were meeting, as we were training, everyday we were working hard, it was always in the back of our heads.

"It was a great motivation for us. To be able to come together and fight the way we did, I'm so proud of the team and I'm so proud of the coaching staff and the community that supports us."

Due to the unusual circumstances of this season and the short offseason that preceded it, Krikorian said his staff and he had to gamble on how to handle a few things like players' workloads and recoveries.

These differences went all the way to the College Cup, when FSU's training staff recommended keeping the team on East Coast time despite being on the West Coast. While this meant dinners around 3 p.m. and bed time starting around 6 p.m., it was definitely a decision that paid off for the Seminoles, as just about all of them did.

"I guess we got it right..." Krikorian said.

"None of us knew if we were going to get it right or not. Fortunately for me, I had the right people around me to give us advice and we listened when we needed to."

The team's arrival back to campus was supposed to be a lighting ceremony of the spear on the Unconquered Statue. However, a bout of rain shortly before the team's arrival delayed the lighting of the torch.

The players didn't see the torch lit until they were leaving the event, having been swarmed with adulation and requests for pictures and autographs from the crowd of fans that greeted them.

In the end, the wait, just like the wait for this year's title, may have been worth it.

Tallahassee's Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux tuned in all of its 84 television sets Tuesday night to the replay of FSU's win over BYU Monday in California to capture the national title in women's soccer.

Reach Curt Weiler at cweiler@tallahassee.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.

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