In January, when many teams with something to prove took the field and crumbled under pressure, Florida State approached the season with a new swagger, a refined style, and the confidence they needed to drive themselves to the big stage. The 2015 season centered on carrying a team that committed to building a program all the way to Nationals. When comparing it to the past few years, captain Skylar Taggart describes, “This year, something was different. We all knew we had the skill to propel ourselves into a position to make it to Nationals and this was our year to do it.”
The road to Nationals was anything but direct for the Florida State Seminole Ladies; rather, they took the long road of player skill and knowledge development to increase expectations and output of their players.
“Our program has changed a lot in the past few years. We’ve had four different coaches in three years, which has made it difficult to establish continuity in the program’s goals. I think the toughest part has been to get everyone on the same page — from the coaches to the captains to the players. Our communication hasn’t been the best in the past, but I think we’ve been pretty direct in addressing that weakness,” says captain Lisa Fitton.
As the only first-time qualifying Women’s team coming to Nationals this year, the team brings a fast-paced, adaptable offense with more options and depth than many of the other teams featured in Pool A. Captain Kristin Lloyd says, “We had to get everyone to buy into a new system, where play time was much more evenly distributed and had set O-lines and D-lines, which started with our former coach Ozzie Velez. Once everyone realized that our new strategy worked pretty well, it helped our team and every individual on our roster improve. The only thing left was to eliminate the notion that we were a second tier team from our minds.”
Coach Josh Boyd adds, “I know I sound like I’m tooting the ‘Our roster is so deep’ horn, but I think that comes up in almost any discussion happening about our team. I will happily put our O-line up against any team’s top seven in the nation, and after we score the other team has to deal with our defensive standouts like Skylar Taggart, Kristin Lloyd, Lauren Brunner, and Dana Schwarz on D. That depth affects more than just our line calling, it allows us to move players around to fill different roles based on matchups, and add elements to set plays based on what we’re given by the defense.”
Anyone who has seen Florida State play this season can easily see the depth in their roster, especially offensively, allowing them to adapt their aggressive offense to be increasingly efficient against strong teams. Captain Fitton describes, “Our team is very unselfish and dynamic. We try to avoid relying too much on anyone — there’s always a backup, or six, if our initial plan doesn’t work. We also never entirely rely on a given offensive or defensive set. Our coaches are great at adjusting on the fly, and have worked hard to challenge us as players to be similarly flexible.”
“Our team does not lack in talent or athleticism,” explains Coach Boyd. “The only real obstacle I think we’ve had to overcome has been figuring out how to consistently be consistent. There are a lot of ways that struggle has manifested itself, but almost all of our issues have come down to that.”
In the first three sanctioned tournaments in which Florida State played, the team showed up in strong form for pool play games each Saturday, winning decisively by large margins. Florida State earned wins in pool play over many teams that qualified for Nationals this year, including Kansas, Texas, Central Florida, and most impressively Virginia. But when it came to the bracket, the Seminole Ladies were forced to exit earlier than expected, highlighting the need to find the fire later in tournaments.
The turning point of the season for Florida State was when they won the games that mattered in bracket play at Centex. A rocky start in pool play in difficult conditions did not mentally stop the team from achieving success in bracket play on Sunday against two teams that bested them on Saturday. Florida State focused and found strides in consistency by beating a strong UCLA team in quarterfinals, taking down Colorado in a closely-contested semifinal, and decisively winning against Kansas in finals.
Captain Lloyd affirms, “Hungry is the first word that comes to mind with this team. We want more. We want to prove Centex wasn’t a fluke. We want to prove winning the Southeast region over a good Central Florida team wasn’t because they collapsed, but rather because we turned it on and started playing our game. We want a shot at the best of the best and we’re about to get our chance. We’re all ready for it.”
Fans of the Women’s division certainly look forward to one of the best rivalry matchups at Nationals during the first round of Pool A when Florida State takes on Central Florida at 10:30 AM. The Sirens and Seminole Ladies have met in almost every single tournament the teams played this season. After meeting five times in sanctioned events this spring, Central Florida leads the season-long contest three wins to Florida State’s two. Every single game has come within two points, which surely promises to provide the most highly-anticipated game on Friday morning.
There is no question that Florida State has the experience to go far in the bracket if they can perform consistently; they are more mature than the rest of the field in Milwaukee with almost half of their roster comprised of graduate students. Even though the team is veteran heavy, the team expects to return at least half of the roster next season, which can mean big things for offseason gains and motivation for the returning core.
As for next year, Boyd is hopeful, “A reality of college sports is that new players have to step up every year if you want to contend. We’ve had some pretty healthy margins of victory this year that have allowed us to try some younger players in roles that they may need to fill going forward. And we’ve had some really promising discoveries come out of that. I’d like to use this season as a springboard rather than a high watermark.”