BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Voted the most outstanding player on offense in the 2013 College Cup, senior midfielder Jamia Fields was Florida State’s offense in the 2014 College Cup.
Her game winner at 82:50 Sunday propelled the Seminoles to a 1-0 victory against Virginia and their first Division I women’s soccer championship.
FSU, which entered Sunday’s national title game at Florida Atlantic University Stadium as the reigning runner-up, gutted out the lessons learned from last year’s painful 1-0 final loss to UCLA.
“It’s a waste if we don’t learn things along way,” FSU head coach Mark Krikorian said. “What I’ve learned is it feels a whole lot better sitting here this year than last year.”
Sunday’s match was the third meeting this season between the two Atlantic Coast Conference rivals. FSU won both prior games by 1-0 score and clinched the third off the left foot of the right-footed Fields, who took a pass from teammate Cheyna Williams and shot from outside the top of the box, beating Virginia goalkeeper Morgan Stearns inside the right post.
“I just think at this level, in college, you should be able to use both feet,” said Fields, adding that her ambidexterity stems from her earliest days as a soccer tyke.
The one offensive breakthrough by either team -- with only eights minutes remaining in regulation -- typified the toe-to-toe and body-to-body toughness of previous Virginia-FSU matches. As time wound down, each offensive opportunity was magnified, and Fields knew it.
“I was just going for it,” she said of her shot.
“Great finish by Jamia,” Virginia head coach Steve Swanson said. “It’s soccer. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
The Cavaliers -- playing in their first national final and also attempting to win their first Division I championship -- entered Sunday’s title game as the nation’s top scorers. They were stymied early and late against FSU, with many of both teams’ offensive forays fizzling at midfield. FSU recorded eight shots. Virginia took seven.
“When they don’t score for 80-something minutes and you’re going in the last 10 minutes, it’s anybody’s game,” Virginia senior midfielder and three-time All-American Morgan Brian said.
“Even their forwards are good defenders,” Swanson said of FSU. “I think they press a lot more maybe than in previous years and they do that quite well.”
At the end of Sunday, the player he has nicknamed “Ms. November-December” came through. Eight of Fields’ career 14 goals came during the post-season, including all four of her goals this year — one against Notre Dame in an ACC tournament semifinal, two against South Carolina in an NCAA quarterfinal and Sunday’s game winner and national-title clincher.
“I just try to play a game, and play and make my teammates better, and get crosses, and when I get a chance, put the ball in the goal,” Fields said.
Her teammates apparently made everyone around them better well before they arrived in South Florida. The difference in the 2013 national runner-up Seminoles and the newly-crowned 2014 NCAA champions was a willingness to hew to a lunch-pail-type attitude. That mindset dated from January, and it marked the 2014 team as a special bunch.
“They brought it every day,” Krikorian said. “They didn’t take days off, they didn’t take sessions off. Their attitude is ‘we’re going to get better every day’ and that was a little different.”
FSU’s first title also is Krikorian’s first in Division I, but not his first NCAA title.
He won two Division II titles in 1994 and 1995 at Franklin Pierce in New Hampshire, and reported exchanging good-luck texts with FSU head football coach Jimbo Fisher earlier Sunday. Krikorian used some of Fisher’s quotes in his pre-game message to his Seminoles. But he didn’t need advice to avoid Sunday’s celebratory post-game cooler dump.
“The one thing I’ve learned is when they’re going to dump the bucket of water on you, get out of the way,” he said, joking.