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Soccer begins NCAA Tournament: Q&A with Kristen McFarland

Florida State begins play in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday as the No. 1 overall seed at noon. The Seminoles will play Milwaukee, which won a play-in game earlier in the week over Elon, and the game will be streamed live on goheels.com.

The Osceola sat down with Kristen McFarland, who has three assists and started 10 games for FSU in the fall, about the layoff from the last game in mid-November when the team won the ACC Tournament title to the spring exhibition season against women’s pro teams and her view of the NCAA Tournament.

We have made a big deal in the media that FSU soccer hasn’t played an official game since mid-November, when the Seminoles won the ACC Tournament title. But you have played an extensive exhibition season this spring, including women’s pro teams like the Orlando Pride. How much has that helped just getting prepared for the NCAA Tournament?

McFarland: We scrimmaged University of Florida this spring but we really haven’t played many college teams. So having that opportunity to play the pros was a great measuring tool for us so we were able to see how we compared to the professionals and a lot of us have aspirations of being pro, which I think will help us continue in this (NCAA) tournament and hopefully do well is having that experience of playing against those pros that are top level. And expose our weaknesses that we need to work on. But, yeah, I still think it is like a big deal that our last game was in November. It’s been a long season and a long time coming for this tournament, but I think this spring, by playing these pro teams, our team has just been able to grow more cohesively.

How much fun is it to play against pro players like Alex Morgan, a U.S. women’s team star, and you’re both trying to help each other, preparing them for their season while you are doing the same?

McFarland: I definitely think there’s a level of appreciation that we have of standing on the same deal with those players and we definitely acknowledge that and play to our best ability and make each other better and we’re playing them and they’re playing us we’re both making each other better, but we definitely do acknowledge that, ‘Hey, this is a really cool opportunity to play next to these superstars and just get better.’ But then knowing we’re kind of going into the Challenge Cup for the NWSL and we’re going into the national championship tournament. But in that moment it was definitely a very cool opportunity.

Coach mentioned he’s seen a level of maturity in the players that has developed, maybe since August, where he thinks you can handle the long gap in the season from November as well a the controlled environment in North Carolina for the tournament. Do you see that individual maturity and closeness among players?

McFarland: I think just having this kind of unorthodox experience of COVID, a level of maturity for all of us as individuals. We have definitely grown. And that’s helped us grow together. As a team we also have a lot of veterans, including myself, on the team who have been through the ropes, can help the younger players. I think experience is everything in the college game, from being on the pitch to doing well in school and all of that. But I think it helps you grow as a person, the longer you’ve been here so I think our ability to kind of take the situation and see the best in it, and keep growing together as a team cohesively helps us when we get on the field. At the end of the day, it’s still soccer. So the soccer part doesn’t change even though all the aspects around it might look a little different. We’re still playing the game that we have grown up and love to do. And together we’re really good at. So I think that this situation has helped out a lot.

How different is scouting this time as it is tough to find common opponents and film of teams like Milwaukee will be from the fall?

McFarland: This program and the coaches do a great job where we respect each opponent as if it were the top name, No. 1, No. 2 seeded teams. No matter who the opponent is, we respect it the same, we go through the scouting report. I think part of that too gets down to habit. And those habits and those good patterns of what we do with each game help us prepare for each game. We’re looking at all the details of Milwaukee and their game and their strengths and how our game plan is going to be, but we definitely go through each team very similarly. And I think that has helped us with that professional mentality of play each game like it’s doesn’t matter who you’re playing. You give your best effort.

You are playing a team that has already played a game, you have an edge as a top seed without having to play the play-in round. How much do you like the tournament format with FSU as a top seed or see the spacing in terms of days between games as the team’s next game after Saturday would be Wednesday?

McFarland: Having that extra edge and having our first game be actually the second round helps a lot. The spacing too of being able to rest and recover is very important and hopefully as we continue to do well and perform and move deeper into this tournament, those days in between will really help us to recover. Because that’s going to matter the most at the end, which team is the healthiest and most recovered and able to give their best performance.

What can you do in the time between games and practices? Do you build in time to watch movies, relax and recharge?

McFarland: We put a lot of time in planning our team room and a way that we could kind of escape a little bit since we could possibly be here for a long time. We have ping pong, we have Wii, we have cornhole, we have crafts. We have a lot of things set up, which I think are very important because as a lot of a lot of the time we will be focused on soccer and preparing and planning for the game and performing. It’s also important to mentally kind of escape a little bit, get your mind off things. You know use a different side of your brain, that creative side and just relax and have fun a little bit, especially being in a bubble and being in a hotel. You can feel a little trapped at time, so to be able to have these escapes and do these activities and get outside and go for walks is really going to help us in that.

We haven’t seen FSU play since November but you have probably seen a teammate who has really progressed in the offseason and in exhibition matches. Who could have an increased role this NCAA Tournament? 

McFarland: I think that’s really hard because there’s so many players. Everyone on the team has put in the work and has grinded and who has really showed up every day to make themselves and their teammates better. But I would say Lauren Flynn. She’s a freshman, and she’s now our starting center back. She has really stepped up to the plate, and immersed herself in this environment and has really worked hard to fill that position and really fill it well. She works extremely hard and she has such a positive attitude. And I think she’s a player to definitely look out for this tournament.