Anna Podojil

Arkansas senior forward Anna Podojil cuts downfield against Florida State defender. The Seminoles defeated the Razorbacks 1-0 Saturday, ending their season in the Elite Eight

 

 

The Razorback soccer team fell in the Elite Eight for the second year in a row with a 1-0 defeat to the Florida State Seminoles in a bruising encounter with a spot to the College Cup on the line.

The sixth largest crowd in Florida State history of 2,667 filed into the Seminole Soccer Complex to see who would advance to the Final Four to take on North Carolina. The Seminole faithful had little to cheer about in the early exchanges as Arkansas’ aggressive forward pressure trumped the counter-attacking nature of Florida State’s formation.

In the 14th minute, Arkansas junior midfielder Emille Hauser’s free kick into the center of the box deflected out to the far right flank to junior forward Ava Tankersley. She recollected her dribble and sent the ball in to senior midfielder Bea Franklin, whose header on goal caromed around about four different players before finally being cleared away by the Florida State back line.

Arkansas, despite outshooting Florida State 4-3 and looking like the more likely team to score throughout the first half and controlling the possession battle, struggled to find many chances that gave Seminole goalkeeper Christina Roque much trouble. Most of the shots either had no pace on them or were from far away enough to give Roque plenty of time to slide over and make a simple save.

With about five minutes left in the opening half, the game flipped on a dime, Florida State became the aggressor and began to challenge the Arkansas philosophy of sending numbers forward. In the 42nd minute, a cross into the box from the right flank by midfielder Emma Bissell was just a touch too wide for forward Olivia Garcia to push it toward the goal.

Florida State had the Arkansas back line reeling. In the 44th minute, another menacing run by the Seminoles up the right side of the field, this time by forward Kaitlyn ZIpay, led to a shot by forward Jenna Nighswonger from the penalty area. Graduate goalkeeper Grace Barbara came up with the biggest save of the night, absorbing all the pace from the strike and deflecting the ball away to keep the game scoreless.

Arkansas head coach Colby Hale brought on a substitution with about 20 seconds left in the half, running out the clock to slow down the sudden charge by Florida State to keep the game level at the intermission.

The Seminoles did not let the 15-minute break deter them from continuing to fire off consistent and relentless attacks. In the 52nd minute, forward Jody Brown was left all alone wide right of the box, forcing graduate defender Bryana Hunter to make a last-minute tackle just before Brown played the ball in, leading to a Florida State corner kick.

Nighswonger sent the ball directly toward the near post, where Hunter was waiting to clear the ball away. She was unable to do so, and it led to an own goal and a 1-0 Florida State lead.

In the 77th minute, with Arkansas’ season already on life support, the Seminoles looked for the proverbial nail in the coffin as their fans’ tomahawk chop chant grew louder with each passing moment. Brown’s run off the left side allowed for midfielder Clara Robbins to shoot from the center of the box, but the ball clattered off the crossbar and flew over the top.

Despite firing off seven shots in the second half, Arkansas once again never found anything that could trouble Roque. She stayed solid as a rock, and the Razorbacks could never get the equalizer to send the game into extra time.

Hale was proud of the team’s body of work on the season but was left lamenting what could have been.

“I’m really proud of the team — we are a mishit corner kick away from a Final Four,” Hale said. “This team overcame a lot this year and went toe to toe with the No. 1 team in the country for 90 minutes. I thought our press caused them all sorts of problems. We just couldn’t get the final touch in the box.”

Arkansas’ season ended with a whimper in the national quarterfinal for the second year in a row, but it should not take away from the history created this year at and away from Razorback Field.

Senior forward Anna Podojil set the all-time school goal-scoring record, Barbara had eight clean sheets in Southeastern Conference play alone, and many freshmen including defender Ella Riley and midfielders Zoe Susi and Ainsley Erzen made their marks on the team, setting it up for another highly competitive season in 2023.

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