No. 8 LSU soccer challenging top-seeded and defending national champion Florida State in second round of NCAA

LSU soccer coach Sian Hudson has her Tigers in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in her four seasons. PHOTO BY: LSU athletics

LSU’s soccer program peaked in the national rankings at No. 5 last season and has made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the second round of play for the first time in four years.

To reach the quarterfinals for the first time, though, LSU must get through one of the sport’s standard bearers when the No. 8 Tigers (10-3-7) visit top-seeded and reigning national champion Florida State (14-2-3) at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Seminole Soccer Complex.

The game will be carried by ESPN+

“The pressure’s on them, we’re the underdogs here,” LSU third-year soccer coach Sian Hudson said. “The message to the girls is that it’s a great opportunity for our school to test ourselves against the national champions and see where we’re at. In a one-off game, anything can happen. I think this is going to be a pure soccer game which I think suits us. I’m really excited.”

LSU won its fourth match in NCAA Tournament history, taking a 3-1 decision at home over Lamar last Friday. The Tigers built a 2-0 halftime lead on goals from midfielder Ida Hermannsdottir and a penalty kick from goalkeeper Mollee Swift and added a goal in the second half from midfielder Brenna McPartlan.

The Tigers flirted with a shutout until conceding a goal in the 81st minute with a rebuilt defense that had starters Olivia Wilks and Jocelyn Ollivierre. They filled in for suspended seniors Maya Gordon and Rammie Noel who must sit a second match for their roles in a fight against Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament.

“I was disappointed to give that goal away at the end,” Hudson said. “Overall, I think we defended really well. It was more of a mistake on our part than them creating one. Olivia and Jocelyn did well coming in for us. There’s a lot of confidence in them at the moment.”

This is the 11th time and fifth straight season Florida State’s the top-seeded team. The Seminoles captured the school’s third national championship in 2021 and first-year coach Brian Pensky, who spent the past 10 years at Tennessee, has kept the program rolling along this year.

Florida State last lost a match on Oct. 20 to North Carolina (2-1) but made amends against the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament championship with a 2-1 victory, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles, who have appeared in 12 College Cups, are 6-1-1 at home this season, including last week’s 3-0 first-round win over Florida Gulf Coast.

Junior midfielder Onyi Echegini, a Mississippi State transfer, tops Florida State with nine goals followed by senior forward/midfielder Jenna Nighswonger, a seventh-year senior, with seven goals and a team-high 15 assists. Junior forward Jody Brown has seven goals and seven assists for the Seminoles who have 54 goals this season.

“Florida State, on average as a team, probably plays six to eight passes to go from one end of the field to the other,” Hudson said. “They’re going to play through their lines, very controlled possession. I think our European players are used to that style. I think we’ve got the players to do similar things that Florida State’s trying to do tactically with possession and moving teams from side to side, waiting for the right time to penetrate and get in behind them. A lot of it will be about the belief from the team that we go and get a result.”

LSU, which hasn’t met FSU in NCAA play since 2007, is paced by Hermannsdottir’s seven goals with forward Alesia Garcia adding five and forward Angelina Thorsen and forward Mollie Baker supplying eight and six assists, respectively.

Swift, a senior, has registered 73 saves and allowed 23 goals for a 1.29 goals-per-game average.

“I’m thrilled with the progression of the program since we got here,” Hudson said. “We may not have gone high in the rankings like we did last year. Overall, our total body of work has been better, more consistent. We may not have the big wins we had last year. I think overall we’ve shown the ability to be a lot more consistent and to grind out some results.

“There was a stretch we were disappointed we weren’t getting goals and the 4-1 win over Ole Miss, and last week against Lamar, we showed we could get back on the scoresheet,” Hudson said. “We don’t expect tomorrow to be a high-scoring game by any stretch. If we could create two or three really good chances, and if we could take one (goal), that’s what it’s really going to come down to with an organized defensive effort, can we create a couple of chances and capitalize on them.”

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