KENNESAW, Ga. – At first glance, Friday’s College Cup semifinal match between Stanford and Florida State promises to be an offensive show featuring two of the country’s most dynamic offenses, each powered by one of the nation’s top goal scorers. Game time is at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU and is a sellout.
FSU has steamrolled through the NCAA Division I women’s soccer tournament and is led by Tiffany McCarty, the school’s all-time goal scoring leader. Stanford has not lost all season (23-0-1) and is led by Pac-12 Player of the Year Lindsay Taylor.
The offenses may draw most of the attention, but both teams arrive with a quiet but intense confidence in their defense – each anchored by sophomore goalkeepers who have had tremendous seasons.
Stanford’s goalkeeper, Emily Oliver, has allowed only five goals all season. After a 0-0 tie in her first start of the year, the Cardinal have won 20 consecutive matches. Oliver has recorded shutouts in 10 of those victories and is the national leader with a 0.26 goals-against average.
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“Our goalkeeping is tremendous,” said Paul Ratcliffe, Stanford’s head coach. “Emily Oliver has been incredible.”
Both Ratcliffe and Oliver stressed that Stanford’s strong defensive performance was a team effort. “It’s all about my backline,” Oliver said. “They’ve been amazing, all the way across.”
FSU coach Mark Krikorian agreed on Stanford’s team defense: “From what I understand, Oliver in the goal is pretty good, but it’s hard to tell because not too many people get at her.”
For FSU, the team – and especially goalie Kelsey Wys – have gotten hot at the right time. After a month-long swoon that started in mid-September when the Seminoles went 2-5, FSU has been unbeatable and is on a 10-game unbeaten streak (9-0-1). That includes winning the ACC Conference championship – a major accomplishment given that three of the four teams that made it to the College Cup are from the ACC.
The ACC Championship was the first in school history for FSU, capping a historic and dramatic run. FSU became the first school to beat traditional power North Carolina in the tournament and then defeated Virginia for the first time in school history.
The dramatics continued in the ACC final against Wake Forest when the tied game came down to penalty kicks. Wys stopped three consecutive penalty kicks to give the FSU an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
In the tournament, the Seminoles have outscored their opponents 10-1.
“During the streak they’ve definitely made my job a lot easier,” Wys said. “I think that communication has been a big part of that, because I have been focusing on that during the season.”
Krikorian emphasized that FSU’s defensive success down the stretch has been a steam effort: “The modern game has become about collective defending – it’s no longer about having good defenders and a good goalkeeper,” he said. “But when you talk about our backline and our goalkeeper, they’re as good as anyone in the country. It’s a collection of superior athletes that have a very good idea about the game.”
Wys’ work ethic and dependability have made her successful Krikorian said. “Kelsey is as sure-handed and as good as a goalkeeper I’ve come across. I think she has a bright future and I think the women’s national team is in that future at some point.
“When I recruited Kelsey, one of the things I saw was a kid who was very consistent in her approach to the game. She is very consistent in her training. Her focus is always there. She is very reliable. So it’s a situation where we know what we are going to get from her.”
Stanford feels equally confident about Oliver, who started last year as a freshman and got better as that season went on.
“We saw that last year at the College Cup – she made a name for herself initially there,” Ratcliffe said. “She has continued to progress and get better and better.”
Oliver made six saves in last year’s national championship game against Notre Dame, including four spectacular second-half saves to keep her team in the game. Stanford lost 1-0, its second consecutive defeat in the national title game.
Those stinging defeats continue to motivate the Stanford players, who are making their fourth consecutive College Cup appearance.
“The disappointment has been there the entire year, since last year, since we lost,” Oliver said. “I think that’s motivated us a lot: in our offseason training, our preseason training, training through the season.”
Her teammates, Oliver said, are not dwelling on it at this point. “We’re here to play FSU,” she said.
“At this point it’s the excitement that takes over. It shifted from disappointment and transferred to excitement. We’re ready to go.”