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FSU soccer catches up to UNC, prepares for latest showdown

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Mark Krikorian has seen the college soccer landscape change dramatically in just the time he has been at Florida State since 2005.

North Carolina was always on top, claiming 18 national titles between 1982 and 2006. Florida State was in pursuit.

“When I first got here, Carolina had won so many championships in such a short amount of time, the goal was to build a program that would go out and be able to find a way to beat them,” Krikorian said. “Now as the game has continued to evolve in the college world, there are a lot of other good college programs, too … It’s no longer just being focused on how to beat Carolina. But in the early days, that was how it was. Try to game plan and build a team that would be able to compete with them.”

Now, Florida State does more than compete with UNC. The Seminoles lost in the 2018 regular season to the Tar Heels before exacting revenge twice, first in the ACC title game and then again in the NCAA championship game.

It’s FSU that has won national titles in 2014 and ’18 while UNC has not won since 2012. And FSU has 10 wins over UNC, the most by any team in the nation.

No. 5 FSU (12-3) and No. 3 UNC (13-1-1) play again on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Chapel Hill, N.C., for the first time this season in a match that will be televised nationally by the ACC Network.

Neither team is living in the past, of course. But the memory of the Tar Heels’ losses is bound to be a motivation.

“We know they’re coming out probably a little harder and faster this year with them losing twice in the ACC and national championship,” sophomore midfielder Jaelin Howell said. “I think that our team is going to be extra pumped up and ready.”

The Seminoles are 6-1 in ACC play, including wins over ranked programs like Clemson and Virginia Tech. The only ACC loss came at home in overtime to No. 1 Virginia.

FSU is led offensively by Deyna Castellanos, Yujie Zhao and freshman Jenna Nighswonger. Castellanos leads the team in goals (8) and assists (8), while Zhao is second on the team with five goals and four assists. Nighswonger is tied for second on the team in with five goals.

UNC will be the latest showdown for the Seminoles, who have also faced the likes of Florida, USC and UCLA in the non-conference season. Krikorian also knows that this could be the first of a few matches against the Tar Heels, with more to come in the postseason.

“Thursday night everyone is going to get a chance to watch us go back and compete against them again in North Carolina again and have an opportunity to go and measure ourselves,” Krikorian said. “At the end of the day this may be the one meeting with North Carolina but if history proves true there may be another one later on. There will be a sequel at some point, potentially.”

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