FSU soccer ready to face unrelenting crowds in road trips to begin championship-defending season
As fate would have it, the Brian Pensky era begins in familiar territory.
The top-ranked Florida State women's soccer team opens its season at SEC opponents No. 12 South Carolina Thursday and Georgia Sunday.
Pensky has been waiting for this day since landing the job at FSU as the team's head soccer coach on April 25.
"It's a long time coming," said Pensky, the reigning SEC Coach of the Year who lifted Tennessee into national prominence over the last 11 years prior to joining the Seminoles.
"The first thing I did when I got here was check the schedule and saw that we were opening up on the road against two SEC opponents. We're pretty prepared and confident in knowing that South Carolina is going to present a tall challenge."
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Pensky is no stranger to South Carolina and Georgia.
His Tennessee team last season defeated both rivals en route to the SEC title. After spending more than a decade in the SEC, Pensky has good insight on what to expect over the next four days.
"South Carolina is always a stingy team -- especially at home. "They are one of the most position-deep SEC teams and don't give up many goals. They are an organized team," Pensky said.
"We know what we'll have to deal with as the number one team in the country. It'll be a pretty ruckus crowd of 2,000 or 3,000 people and a tough environment at South Carolina. Both are going to be tough environments. These are really good programs that are committed to being great. The towns galvanize behind the programs.
"We'll learn a lot this weekend when the going gets tough."
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One thing that Pensky has learned about his FSU team is that it's talented and understands the game. The chemistry is already present with 12 of 21 returnees, including midfielder Clara Robbins and junior goalkeeper Christina Roque.
"Our kids are really skillful with a really good feel for the game They play together really well. There's a lot of small things that don't need to be taught because to they just feel it," Pensky said.
"For me, it's just finding out what they need to hear from me. We are who we are, but it's their team. I'm trying to get to know them as players and get to know them. At the same time, I still have to be me and find ways to implement certain ways I like to play.
"I'm stepping into a legend's shoes (former coach Mark Krikorian) and have to authentically put a stamp on it."
Senior forward and midfielder LeiLanni Nesbeth feels that Pensky has instilled confidence and initiative into the team since his arrival.
"He knows the quality that we have in our attacking," she said.
"Brian talks a lot about having gumption. He allows us to have freedom and give us a comfortable environment to ask questions because willing to give us the advice that we need."
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Chomping at the bit
Practices have been impacted on some days in the midst of summer rain, thunder and lightning.
"They're junkies -- all of them," Pensky said.
"They're devastated when we can't play. They love to play and will be chomping at the bit. I'm pretty confident that I'm going to see another level out of them on Thursday night."
All in all, the Seminoles are anxious to take the field uninterrupted. Nesbeth echoed those sentiments of her new coach.
"I think we're just ready to play and get some outside competition in. We're all excited to see how all the new dynamics work with the new coaches," she said.
"We know all the goal is every year. Over the preseason, it was embedded within us and now it's about getting out there to put all the pieces together to show ourselves."
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2022 Florida State Soccer Schedule
Aug. 18: at South Carolina, 7 p.m.
Aug. 21: at Georgia, 1 p.m.
Aug. 25: Auburn, 6 p.m.
Sept. 2: at Florida, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8: Florida Gulf Coast, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11: at Rice, 2 p.m.
Sept. 16: at Boston College, 4 p.m.
Sept. 22: Louisville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25: Clemson, 1 p.m.
Oct. 1: at Miami, 6 p.m.
Oct. 6: at Virginia, 8 p.m.
Oct. 9: at Notre Dame, noon
Oct. 13: Duke, 6 p.m.
Oct. 20: North Carolina, 8 p.m.
Oct. 23: at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Oct. 27: Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.
Gerald Thomas III covers FAMU athletics for the Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @3peatgee.
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