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LeiLanni Nesbeth and Florida State suffer shoot-out heartache

Heartbreaking defeat: LeiLanni Nesbeth and her Florida State University agonisingly missed out on NCAA College Cup title glory after falling to a dramatic 4-1 penalty shoot-out loss to Santa Clara

LeiLanni Nesbeth and her Florida State University agonisingly missed out on NCAA College Cup glory after falling to a 4-1 penalty shoot-out defeat by Santa Clara in the final at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, last night.

Florida State, who came into the final as the No 1-ranked side, were just six minutes away from lifting the title for a third time in the past seven years after Jenna Nighswonger’s 63rd-minute opener — only for eleventh-ranked Santa Clara to strike late through Kelsey Turnbow and force extra time.

With neither side managing to snatch a sudden-death winner in the additional 20 minutes, Florida State’s destiny lay in a penalty shoot-out for the third successive round, having taken that route to overcome Duke 5-3 in the quarter-finals before eliminating Virginia 3-0 after both games ended goalless.

However, with Nesbeth not on the field having been substituted in the 55th minute, Florida State’s spot-kick fortune run out. It was Santa Clara who held their nerve, scoring their first three kicks with Florida State missing their first two, both hitting the right upright.

Gabby Carle gave FSU faint hope, scoring the third kick to make it 3-1, but Santa Clara were not to be denied, as Izzy D’Aquila stroked home the decisive penalty to clinch Santa Clara the title for the second time and spark wild celebrations.

Having recovered from a slight knock picked up in the early stages of the semi-final, Nesbeth was handed a place in a midfield five, operating behind lone striker Kristen McFarland, with head coach Mark Krikorian opting for a 4-5-1 formation.

After a tentative opening 23 minutes, in which neither side managed an attempt on goal, Nesbeth was substituted having struggled to make an impact on proceedings.

Moments later, Florida State finally created the first chance. Having won possession deep in the opposition half, McFarland was released into the area only to be denied bravely at her feet by goalkeeper Marlee Nicolos.

Minutes later, Florida State were adamant they should have been awarded a penalty as Clara Robbins was seemingly upended by Turnbow, but the official waved away the appeals.

Just after the half-hour stage, Santa Clara went close to breaking the deadlock with their first real opening. Picking up possession outside the area, the dangerous Turnbow — who had been man-marked throughout the half — skipped past Emily Madril, but could not beat goalkeeper Cristina Roque, who made a smart save, parrying the powerful right-footed effort away with a strong right hand.

With eight minutes of the first half remaining, Florida State were handed a good opportunity with a contentious award of a free kick, centrally on the edge of the area. However, Nighswonger failed to capitalise, driving her effort straight into the wall.

Florida State, with Nesbeth back on the field, picked up where they left off in opening 45 minutes, dominating possession early in the second half, as they patiently probed the opposition area, trying to work an opening.

In the 58th minute, FSU should have opened the scoring. Carrying the ball brilliantly out of defence, Madril released Zhao Yujie into the area but the winger failed to capitalise as her heavy touch past goalkeeper Nicolos allowed Alex Loera to get back and clear the danger.

With Nesbeth substituted again, Florida State’s dominance was finally rewarded as they broke the deadlock in style in the 63rd minute. Turning smartly on the edge of the area, Zhao picked out Nighswonger, on the right-hand side of the area, who got the ball out of her feet before curling a left-footed effort beyond Nicolos and into the net via the far upright.

Santa Clara responded well to the setback and created a promising chance of their own moments later. A smart link-up between Sally Menti and Izzy D’Aquila, ended with the former finding space on the edge of the area, but she could only fire her effort harmlessly over Roque’s bar.

With ten minutes remaining, Florida State had the ball in the back of the net again as Zhao played a brilliant one-two with Nighswonger on the edge of the area before slotting the ball past Nicolos. However, as the winger wheeled away in delight, her celebrations were cut short by the assistant referee, who had raised her flag for offside.

To add insult to injury, Santa Clara levelled four minutes later as they punished a lapse in concentration from FSU. An overhit pass was seized upon by Turnbow, who drove into right-hand side of the area, shifted the ball past Madril and guided a left-footed effort beyond the reach of Roque and into the bottom left corner.

Neither side could find a winner in the remaining minutes, taking the match into sudden-death extra time.

With just a minute remaining of the first additional ten, FSU came inches away from snatching victory, but Zhao’s curling effort from the edge of the box came crashing back off the bar.

Despite their best efforts neither side could snatch victory in the second half of extra time as the match went to penalties.

There it was Santa Clara who held their nerve, scoring all four of their penalties as Florida State were left to rue missing their first two.

After Carle gave FSU faint hope, it was left to D’Aquila to score the decisive spot-kick and clinch her side the title for the first time since 2001.

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Published May 18, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated May 18, 2021 at 7:59 am)

LeiLanni Nesbeth and Florida State suffer shoot-out heartache

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