Florida State women's soccer: Jenna Nighswonger overcomes death of grandfather to lead Seminoles

Ehsan Kassim
Tallahassee Democrat

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind for Florida State's Jenna Nighswonger.

Nighswonger's grandfather died 10 days ago. She flew to Boston and then drove up to Maine to be with her family.

In all of that, the FSU soccer senior did not miss any game action. Instead, she has stepped up, scoring two goals and adding three assists in the first two games of ACC play.

Nighswonger led the No. 7 Seminoles with a career-high five points to take down Louisville 5-1 Thursday at the Seminole Soccer Complex. She scored a goal, adding three assists. 

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"I think we knew going in that Louisville was a dangerous scoring team," Nighswonger said. "So just really concentrating in the second half and making sure that we were coming out, guns blazing. So to do that and score three goals in 10 minutes is really good for this team."

Florida State (5-0-2, 1-0 ACC) is unbeaten in its last 17 games, dating back to the final game of the 2021 regular season. The streak is the third longest in program history.

Louisville (4-2-2, (1-1) has now dropped all nine meetings between the two programs.

Stress relieving

Getting back on the field for Nighswonger and helping her team win has helped relieve stress.

She scored on a corner kick against Boston College in last week's 6-0 win to open conference play. Nighswonger added another goal in the first 1:30 Thursday to get the scoring going for the Seminoles.

"I think when you step on the field, it's just really important to put everything behind you and just play the game," Nighswonger said. "I know my grandpa was always proud of me for what I did. And I think it's really nice to have gotten the goals in the past few games just to put my mind at ease and get the stress away."

FSU played Rice on Sept. 11, winning 5-0. The ACC opener against Boston College fell on Sept. 16. That was enough time for Nighswonger to make it back home.

"I was really lucky I was able to go and see my family and spend some time," Nighswonger said. "The timing was really fortunate that I was able to go to Boston and just drive straight up to Maine."

Florida State coach Brian Pensky was proud of his team captain following the performance.

"Even though she's had stuff going on in her life she's managed to continue to be great," Pensky said. "And tonight was a special night. She's a phenomenal player. It's one thing to play well, it's another thing with all of this (going on) all of a sudden. Especially as an attacking midfielder you want to see, you want to see numbers, you want to see the fruits of your labor, and certainly she saw that tonight."

Corner magic

Is executing a corner kick luck or skill?

Nighswonger has helped the Seminoles score three times off corner kicks in the past two games, scoring once and picking up two assists.

"To be honest whenever it goes in it's honestly just luck," she said. "I'm just trying to whip it in so my teammates can get a header on it."

She called it luck but clarified that she does have a plan going into the corner kicks.

"I am trying to get it based on where I see my players positioned," Nighswonger said. "I am just trying to whip it in hard and around head height so it's easy for them to get a header and keep it away from the goalkeeper."

Pensky said the play-calling and the number of different scorers have made the corner kicks more successful. Twelve different players have scored a goal this season.

"We've been pretty straightforward on what we've been doing, kind of stacking the box you got another little play and we may need to look at being a little bit more creative moving forward yet at the same time," Pensky said. 

"We've got a lot of good hitters of the ball, a lot of kids that are hungry to score and attack the ball and I don't know the total on the year but in each of the last two games, we've got goals on corner kicks."

Loss of a goal

Nighswonger originally was credited with the goal to open the scoring in the second half. She took a corner kick and placed the ball into a pocket to score a goal.

Following the game, though, LeiLanni Nesbeth was credited with the goal. She got a piece of the ball. Nighswonger was still credited with an assist, which was one of three on the day.

She joked she had "no comment" on the change of goal following the game.

"(We have) goal threats from every position, every player on the field," Nighswonger said. "At any point in time, I put my trust in anyone to score the goal. On a team like this it's very special."

Up next

The Seminoles will play consecutive home games for the first time this season when they host No. 14 Clemson (5-2-2, 1-1).

The Tigers are coming off a 4-1 loss against Wake Forest on the road Thursday.

Clemson has a key victory over No. 17 West Virginia and earned a tie against No. 4 South Carolina 

"I think so far we're in a really positive headspace," Nighswonger said. "We've made some improvements we need to make and I think we're just excited to play another strong opponent like (Louisville) and go forward and keep pushing in ACC play."


Who: No. 7 FSU (5-0-2, 1-0 ACC) vs. No. 14 Clemson (5-1-2, 1-0)

When/where: Sunday, 1 p.m.; Seminole Soccer Complex

TV/Radio: ACC Network Extra

Reach Ehsan Kassim at ekassim@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Ehsan_Kassim. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).

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