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Column: May promised to be fun and delivered – what’s next in June?

I don’t think I’ve ever watched this many Florida State teams competing on this high of a stage in a 30-day stretch. Nor have I seen two Florida State players awarded the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in their sport over that same stretch. This Seminole roller coaster has taken us on a fun ride, with a number of sharp turns, climbs and gut-wrenching dips. And it’s not over yet.

There has been one moment that has stood out above of the others for me because I believe it’s a harbinger of things to come. 

Let me set the stage. When people ask me what is the loudest football stadium I’ve ever been in, I always say Baton Rouge. Even between the plays, Death Valley is louder than any other stadium. The Tigers never shut up. Not only are they loud when cheering for their team during the play, they are still louder than most any other stadium between the plays when they are just talking to each other about the play that just happened in an equally loud voice. 

Back to softball where the ‘Noles won a competitive first game in the best-of-three, NCAA Super Regional against LSU in Baton Rouge with all the drama you would expect from a rabid Tiger crowd. The ‘Noles were down 2-0 in the second game with two frames to play. Two to nothing in the sixth is time for the Cajuns to start the celebration. 

If you’ve been to Baton Rouge for any sports event you know those Tigers come out of the bayou to support their team with lavish tailgate parties and rambunctious vocal support. I’m talking all of them, Bobby Boucher, Mama Boucher, Captain Insano, Farmer Fran, the vexing Vicki Vallencourt and of course Townie, the dude who kept jumping up shouting, “You can do it!”

Call it obnoxious or rambunctious, whatever, but it makes winning in Baton Rouge sweeter. 

Now here’s my point. I’m in Tallahassee watching the game with five buddies, who are ready to concede the Super Regional will go to a deciding game three on Sunday, when my host’s 17-year-old son came into the room and began mocking us for being so emotionally invested in a women’s softball game. 

We tried to explain competition, effort and skill, qualities he as a high school athlete should be able to relate. This is an NCAA Super Regional, the pinnacle of sport. It doesn’t matter whether it’s men or women, there’s a level playing field and a championship on the line. 

We were explaining everything short of chauvinism to him, and he’s still messing with us, when FSU scored a run to make it 2-1 — and then a second run to take the game into extra innings. 

High fives among the guys wearing “Old Guys Rule” T-shirts. A smirk from the kid.

Anything that changes bad mojo I perceive as a good thing so I egged junior to keep on talking smack. When the ‘Noles scored a run in the eighth on Elizabeth Mason’s home run and then added the game-winner in the ninth on Kiersten Landers’ pinch-hit walk-off single, he was on his feet high-fiving the jubilant old men who were bouncing around like children on a sugar high.

I want to think his attitude toward women’s sports pivoted. I want to think a home run, a suicide squeeze attempt and a head-first slide spoke louder than any words we could have shared about Olympic sports that are growing in popularity. I want to think that scene is being played out in ballparks and in living rooms across the country now that television and streaming services are carrying the excitement and competition these sports deliver, which are winning hearts among even the most traditional sports fan. 

While I woke up the next morning with a smile, I guarantee you the LSU dude behind home plate who jumped up after every pitch – the ‘you can do it character’ – woke up feeling blue. 

And it’s not just the women. Men’s sports is getting its day in the sun too with more and better coverage and your Seminoles are taking full advantage of the opportunity to excite folks this spring. Day after day, we’ve been able to follow our teams compete on the very highest level, including:

  • The Sand Volleyball CCSA Tournament Championship win over No. 4 LSU to advance to the NCAA Final 8 
  • The No. 3 seed Sand Volleyball team won the first round against Stanford in the NCAA Beach Volleyball Finals before losing to Southern California, the eventual national champion, and finishing 5th
  • The No. 7 Women’s Tennis team won two NCAA Regional games to advance to the quarterfinals (final eight) where they lost to the University of Texas, who became the eventual National Champion with a win over Pepperdine.
  • The No. 1 ranked soccer team won its NCAA quarterfinal and semifinal matches with penalty kick shootout victories
  • The women played in the NCAA Soccer National Championship game, with a second-place finish
  • Jaelin Howell was awarded the Hermann Trophy, presented to the top soccer player in the nation
  • The No. 6 ranked women’s golf team won the NCAA Regional Championship, the first in school history, at Louisville
  • The women’s golf team finished 9th at the NCAA Finals
  • The No. 8 ranked softball team won the NCAA Regional in Tallahassee
  • The softball team won the Super Regional with a sweep of LSU at Baton Rouge
  • The Seminoles earned a trip to the Women’s College World Series, which begins Thursday
  • The No. 10 FSU women’s Track and Field team qualified nine at the NCAA East Regional Preliminaries to compete at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon

That’s a lot of NCAA Championship excitement in a two- to three-week span and the men were busy too:

  • The No. 1 seeded men’s golf team won the NCAA Regional Golf Championship, the first in school history, in Tallahassee
  • The men’s team finished in fifth place at the NCAA Finals in stroke play to qualify for the final eight in match play but lost to Pepperdine, who advanced to win the national championship. FSU finished tied for fifth
  • John Pak was presented the Fred Haskins Award as the nation’s top male golfer
  • The FSU men’s Track and Field team qualified 12 at the NCAA East Regional Preliminaries to compete at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon
  • The Baseball team earned its 43rd NCAA Regional bid and will travel to Oxford, Miss., to begin play on Friday

Take a moment to admire that list of achievements and fun and exciting action to follow. 

Take a second look because no collegiate sports enthusiast at any school sees a list like that very often. 

We’re not done yet

As noted FSU still has the softball, baseball and the men’s and women’s track teams in NCAA Championship competition over the coming three weeks. 

Heck, by the time they are done, football season will be just around the corner.

Wait. Football season never stops does it? The Seminoles are rebuilding their roster, seemingly on a weekly basis, with transfers and with commitments for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 season. By the time this story is posted to the Osceola website, we’ll be on the football practice fields, watching a series of Mike Norvell summer camps eyeballing somebody’s son as if they are Wagu beef.

By my count, half of FSU’s starting lineup next year will include players who transferred to FSU from other schools, but wait, today’s column is about Florida State’s success in sports not named football. 

Roller coaster ride

As it should be in sport, there have been tremendous highs and enough lows along the way to keep us humble. The Noles are stacking the NCAA Regional Championship trophies but no national championship trophies yet. So which team(s) still in play have the best chance of bringing home the bacon? 

The softball team is always a strong candidate but don’t sleep on the track and field teams, particularly the men, who have athletes competing in the most diverse array of events longtime FSU track coaches Dick Roberts and Terry Long can remember.

“Our men had one of our best Region meets ever,” said head coach Bob Braman. “We competed beyond our expectations. The men hit on 10 of 12 National qualifying opportunities today, that’s unheard of! We’re in a really good spot for a trophy finish (Top 4) at Nationals. And you never know when things break your way and something amazing happens.”

The athletes to qualify included:

4x100m relay: Taylor Banks, Kasaun James, Don’drea Swint, and Jo’Vaughn Martin ran a 38.67, which is the fourth-best time in FSU history and in the nation this year.

100m: Martin (9.97), James (10.04) and Banks (10.10). 

200m: James ran a season-best 20.16 while Martin ran 20.33.

4x400m relay: Alex Collier, Ari Cogdell, Damarre Martin and DaeQwan Butler qualified in spite of adversity. During the first exchange, the lights at Hodges Stadium went off, causing the remainder of the event to take place in the dark. With phone flashlights to guide them to the finish, the group became automatic qualifiers with a time of 3:06.96.

High jump Jordan Wesner cleared 2.16m. 

Discus: Milton Ingraham threw personal-best (59.26m).

Triple jump: Jacore Irving qualified with personal-best (15.98m),

Trey Cunningham, who was a finalist for the Bob Bowerman Award, presented to the top  track athlete in the nation, pulled a muscle and was unable to compete to qualify. 

He will be missed in a tight competition among the top five schools.

The nine women include:

Discus: Shanice Love (61.22m) and Caisa-Marie Lindfors (58.66m). 

Triple jumpers: Ruta Lasmane (14.15) and Alonie Sutton (13.37).

The 4x100m: Shian Hyde, Jayla Kirkland, Ka’Tia Seymour and Edidiong Odiong (42.99), second fastest in FSU history.

1500m: Maudie Skyring (4:13.72).

100m: Kirkland, who qualified on the 4x100m relay.

The ones that got away 

The No. 1 ranked soccer team recorded two wins on penalty kick shootouts to reach the NCAA championship game with freshman goalkeeper Cristina Roque making incredible saves throughout the tournament. When a late defensive lapse, exacerbated by an offsides penalty, erased a second Seminole goal, Santa Clara was able to take the match into overtime at 1-1. When the match remained scoreless in overtime, it led to a third-straight game to be decided by a penalty kick shootout. If you were glued to the TV during these three games, you were probably reminded of the expression “Live by the sword, die by the sword.”

Santa Clara won the penalty kick shootout after two FSU kicks sailed wide right and I felt gut punched, best described by ABC’s Wide World of Sports: “The ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat,”

My first waking thought the next morning — right after the bathroom thought — was our team lost. 

You know that sickening feeling after a peaceful sleep? Maybe after a football loss to the Gators or the ‘Canes.

I hate it and I love it because it tells me I have something, in Seminole sports, I am passionate about. 

The hollow gut after the soccer loss told me I’m all in.

If that didn’t do it, the aforementioned softball Super Regional at LSU did. 

We’re not done yet

The Tigers gotta be tired of seeing FSU on the schedule, as their sand volleyball and softball teams were each knocked out of NCAA play by the Seminoles this month. The Tigers’ next chance to get the Seminoles will be at the NCAA track meet in Eugene, Ore., on June 9-12 where their No. 1 ranked men and No. 1 ranked women are prohibitive favorites to win at least the women’s championship this year. 

The No. 8 softball begins double-elimination play in the Women’s College World Series starting Thursday with UCLA. No. 3 seed FSU Baseball will start the NCAA Tournament in Oxford, Miss., with Southern Miss.

While the “Eye of the Tigers” may be on FSU, it’s high time the Seminoles knock off a West Coast team after losses to Southern Cal in sand volleyball, Santa Clara in soccer and Pepperdine in men’s golf. There’s no time like the present and softball may be just the squad to knock off the Bruins.

You think about those three losses, make it four with the women’s tennis loss to Texas, and the only team to end four FSU seasons was the eventual National Champion. Those losses hurt but in a good way. It is a quality problem when this many of your teams are battling with the best of them and at the absolute highest level.

To quote yet another adage: “It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.”

We’ll do the counting when all the dealing is done but I gotta believe that when all is said and done, our Seminoles, who finished 11th in the Learfield Directors Cup Standings last year, will be ranked even higher this year. 

And by the time our teams are done playing in mid June, the start of fall football camp will be just six weeks away and the dawg days of summer won’t feel quite so long.