Paul Kennedy begins Women's Elite 8 Countdown
Florida State's Mami Yamaguchi leads the NCAA Division I women's ranks in points (62) and is second in goals (23) and assists (16), but the Japanese international is only part of the story in the Seminoles' return to the Elite Eight for the third straight year.
Coach Mark Krikorian has lived up to his reputation as one of the nation's top recruiters, bringing in five first-year players who have played key roles for Florida State, which hosts Connecticut in Friday's quarterfinal.
After back-to-back Women's College Cup appearances, Krikorian had big holes to fill for his third season in Tallahassee. Stars Ali Mims, India Trotter and Kelly Rowland all graduated, and Australian international Sal Kuralay did not return.
What he did not count on was losing captain Sarah Wagenfuhr for the season at the end of September with a knee injury.
Five first-year players -- freshmen Erin McNulty, Amanda DaCosta, Marissa Kazbour and Sanna Talonen and transfer Erika Sutton -- started in FSU's 4-0 demolition of Texas in the third round, and six other newcomers -- freshmen Rachel Lim, Rachel Brown, Casey Lademann and Margo McAuley and transfers Lauren Switzerand Kate Milstead -- have played in the NCAA Tournament.
Here's a look at the five first-year starters:
ERIN MCNULTY. Canada's two top young keepers will go face to face on Friday when McNulty, a freshman from Winnipeg, faces UConn's Stephanie Labbe, a junior from Stoney Plain, Alb. Labbe was the starter and McNulty one of her backups when Canada played in the 2006 Under-20 Women's World Cup in Russia.
McNulty has yet to give up a goal in the NCAA Tournament -- shutout wins over Kennesaw State, LSU and Texas.
"I just think the team is playing very well," she says. "I am happy with the way we are playing."
ERIKA SUTTON.Sutton played with Wagenfuhr for the Colorado Rush, winning a national youth championship in 2006, but spent her first two years at San Diego State before being reunited with Wagenfuhr at Florida State.
Sutton, a midfielder at San Diego State, didn't make her first start until the fifth game of the season but has been a fixture on the backline ever since.
AMANDA DACOSTA. DaCosta, whose parents are Portuguese, grew up admiring Ronaldinho and was so good she started on her high school team in Katonah, N.Y., in eighth grade.
She chose FSU because she wanted to prove to herself she could earn her playing time, and she's done just that. The 5-foot-4 midfielder has started every game and leads FSU's Americans with five goals and eight assists.
MARISSA KAZBOUR. The Floridian has been sensational in the NCAA Tournament with an assist in the wins over Kennesaw State and LSU and the third goal against Texas. The midfielder is happy to contribute any way she can.
"It's just awesome to come out and play another tournament game," said Kazbour. "Just to come out every game and do what I know I have to do. If I get a goal or assist, that's great. I want to contribute to the team."
SANNA TALONEN. The 23-year-old Finn was a late addition to Krikorian's '07 recruiting class -- and easily the most accomplished. She has earned 34 caps and scored nine goals for Finland. The highlight of her career so far came in 2005 when she made two appearances for Finland at the European Women's Championship in England.
The same year she led the Finnish First Division in scoring with 28 goals in 18 games for FC Honka. Last summer, she was played for Balinge in Sweden's Damallsvenskan alongside former Notre Dame great Anne Makinen.
She single-handedly beat Kennesaw State with a hat trick in the first round and scored the first goal late in the first half against Texas to give her 14 goals for the season. She also hit the post 41 seconds into the game against Texas.