Friday, 7:00 PM – (1) Florida State vs South Alabama
Florida State rolling over minnows in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament has been as inevitable as death and taxes, meaning South Alabama will likely not be planning for a long stay in this competition. The Noles managed to finish second in the ACC behind Virginia this season but got another piece of silverware into the trophy cabinet by toppling Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament final. The Seminoles have had to deal with key offensive talisman Dagny Brynjarsdottir and full-back Megan Campbell being absent in stretches for World Cup Qualifying with their European nations. When complete, FSU has been a terror, fueled by a back four featuring Campbell, the nation’s best defender in senior center-back Kassey Kallman, central defense partner Kristin Grubka, and healthy again full-back Isabella Schmid. Senior goalkeeper Kelsey Wys gives the club experience in between the pipes but still has to prove she can be the answer in the biggest games after two calamitous College Cup games in 2011 and 2012. Brynjarsdottir and Icelandic compatriot Berglind Thorvalsdottir are really the club’s only consistent offensive options, and even the latter has run hot and cold as a redshirt freshman this season. The Noles do have a great weapon off the bench in Brit Marta Bakowska-Mathews, a set piece specialist who has three game winners this season. If anyone’s able to put the clamps on Brynjarsdottir though, it might be an upsetting tournament for the Tallahassee side. I wouldn’t count on that for a while though, as if you believe in the mantra of defense winning championships, Florida State’s got a great chance of being there at the end. For a club desperate to finally get over the hump and win the one trophy that’s eluded them, 2013 may represent one of their best shots at it. On the more forgiving side of the bracket, these Noles may just go all the way in 2013.
South Alabama have already had a successful season under first-year head coach Graham Winkworth, but the Jaguars face a near impossible task on Friday. USA finally shed their underachieving ways this season, finishing second in the league before upsetting league champs Western Kentucky to win the Sun Belt’s auto bid into the Big Dance. As is the case with so many of these smaller clubs in the draw this year, the Jaguars just don’t have a lot of experience against big clubs. While the Jags did manage to beat SEC side Mississippi State in the opener, a more accurate reflection of their abilities may be the loss to South Florida, the only team the club played that finished in the uRPI Top 100. Finding a way through the Florida State defense likely comes down to rookie Lauren Allison, who had an amazing rookie season en route to no small degree of individual silverware. Allison scored fourteen goals and eleven assists in her freshman year, but if she can avoid being erased by Kallman, it might be her biggest accomplishment of the season. Clarissa Hernandez is another game competitor in midfield, but like Allison, she’ll probably find time and space in short order in this one. The defense has proven a bit leaky in the league, which isn’t a great sign. Defenders Jess Oram and Shelby Owen were capable at Sun Belt level, but they have a task ahead of them in shutting down the Noles’ Icelandic scoring duo. Winkworth stepped into a great situation here and capitalized confidently in getting the Jags to the Big Dance. But Florida State doesn’t lose to minnows. Ever. It might not be full damage control in Tallahassee for Winkworth’s side, but they’ll still probably be well beaten on the day.
Prediction: Florida State 4 – 0 South Alabama
South Alabama Tournament Prediction: First Round
Florida State Tournament Prediction: Defeated Finalists