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Breakthrough wins by FSU, Virginia solidify ACC’s soccer stronghold
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) –Florida State knocked on the door of a women’s soccer national championship for over a decade, making eight trips to the NCAA College Cup since 2003, including each of the last four seasons.
Virginia owned six NCAA men’s soccer championships, but had gone since 2009 without claiming the sport’s biggest prize.
The wait ended for both programs earlier this month. And for the Atlantic Coast Conference, it marked a return to familiar territory.
Florida State snared the previously elusive women’s title on Dec. 7 at Boca Raton, blanking ACC counterpart Virginia by a 1-0 count in a College Cup final that mirrored the 2014 ACC Championship game both in terms of matchup and end result.
Virginia found itself the only ACC team still standing in the NCAA Men’s College Cup at Cary, North Carolina, last weekend. But the Cavaliers, who were seeded eighth in the ACC Championship and were knocked out of that event in the quarterfinal round, defeated UMBC, 1-0, in the national quarterfinals and then bounced No. 2 seeded UCLA on penalty kicks in the title match.
It marked the 11th time that the ACC has swept both the men and women’s NCAA soccer titles. The NCAA has crowned 89 total soccer champions, and 39 have of those have been ACC teams (22 women’s and 17 men’s).
The Virginia men’s NCAA soccer championship was the second in a row for an ACC team and the seventh in the past 10 years.
Florida State added to what is evolving into a multi-team ACC women’s soccer legacy. North Carolina owns 21 NCAA women’s soccer championships, and Notre Dame claimed three prior to joining the conference in 2013.
But the 2014 titles stand on their own as stellar achievements, particularly among the players and coaches who brought them home.
“I told these guys before the game that being the best at what you do – being the absolute best at what you do – there's no better feeling," said Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch, whose teams finished the season with a 14-6-3 record. "Two hundred five Division I college soccer teams all want to do just what we did.
“The whole time they were an unbelievable, coachable group that listened to everything we had to say and executed every game plan – and we had a lot of them. I'm so, so proud of them and happy for them.”
Coaches rightfully credit their student-athletes when achieving their ultimate goals, and the ACC continues to lead the way in terms of talent. For the second consecutive year, two of the three finalists for both the men’s and women’s MAC Hermann Trophy are student-athletes from ACC schools.
But sustained success starts at the top, as a quick glance at the ACC’s latest national champions affirms.
Gelnovatch has been a part of all seven of Virginia’s national championship squads – five as an assistant coach between 1989 and 1994 and as head coach of the 2009 and 2014 teams. In addition to perennial postseason success as head coach as his alma mater, Gelnovatch is closing in on 300 career coaching wins. He will head into next season with 274.
With its seven NCAA men's soccer titles, Virginia owns the third-most championships of any program.
“This one is pretty rewarding,” Gelnovatch said of the most recent effort. "It's not my most talented team in my 19 years (as head coach) "In fact, of the five College Cup teams that I've had, it probably ranks as one of the lowest teams in terms of talent. You have to have talent to get here, but the team spirit and chemistry, the intelligence and adaptability to tactics was off the charts. We tweaked, and we re-did. This team was exceptional at adapting.”
The Florida State women similarly benefitted from the veteran presence of head coach Mark Krikorian, who has amassed 193 victories in 10 years at Florida State, including 40 in the postseason.
Krikorian has led the Seminoles to the Elite Eight every year since he arrived on campus in 2005, seven College Cup appearances, three national title games, three ACC championships and three regular- season league titles. He has registered at least 16 wins in all 10 seasons at Florida State, and the Seminoles are the only school in the country to finish ranked in the top 10 of the final NSCAA poll over the last 10 years.
“In 2005 I had the honor on sitting in on the search for a new coach,” said Elliott Finebloom, Florida State’s assistant athletic director who oversees sports information and digital media. “I knew the minute I met Mark Krikorian and (his wife) Linda Krikorian this day would come.
“Seminole soccer was the first full time sport of my sports information career, and watching that program win a national title was a feeling like none other you can hope for in our profession. What made it so special for me was that I have never met a man or coach more deserving of reaching the pinnacle than Mark.”
Krikorian, who earlier this week was named the NSCAA National Coach of the Year, cited the support of the Florida State community.
“I just got off the phone with the president of the University, calling to congratulate us,” Krikorian told reporters shortly after the Seminoles’ title-game win. “For me, that means a lot. It’s not just us on our own little island – it matters to those folks.
“It’s a very positive environment. Part of my pregame speech was some quotes from (head football coach) Jimbo Fisher. Part of the message I gave them was not worrying about the result, just sticking to the process. I appreciate that from Jimbo.”
Now that his team has reached the pinnacle, Krikorian hopes to see his returning cast and newcomers apply this season’s formula for continued success next fall.
“The biggest thing that I’ve seen this year is that they brought it every day,” Krikorian said of his team. “They didn’t take days off, they didn’t take sessions off. Every player came with the idea ‘I’m going to get better today’.
“That’s different from what it’s been in the past. There have been some times in the past, where we said ‘we weren’t quite sharp enough’. These seniors wouldn’t allow the level to drop. That’s the biggest thing for next year. Who else is going to have this level of accountability?”