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On January 27, 2016, the women’s and men’s basketball team celebrated Florida Hospital Zephyrhills Appreciation Night at the Marion Bowman Activities Center. Fans took part in the White-Out, with many sporting special T-shirts created for the event. At halftime of the men’s game, President Bill Lennox and Athletics Director Fran Reidy presented Florida Hospital Zephyrhills CEO Randy Surber with a signed ball, thanking him for the hospital’s recent $100,000 gift. That gift made the Bowman Center’s new scoreboards and video boards possible.

Ask Coach Erin (Brunt) Kinberger ’07 about how the 2015 Saint Leo softball season ended, and you get no visible reaction. No expression in her face, nothing glistening in her eyes, no slumping of shoulders.

But, sitting in the same chair in Saint Leo’s Student Community Center where she learned in early May that the Lions’ 39-12 record would not send them to a seventh NCAA tournament appearance, it all comes out in her voice.

“I knew, based on the research that my assistants and I had done, that the odds were against us,” said Kinberger, delivering a sigh. “It was kind of gut-wrenching to see them eager to find out, and yet there were seven seniors I knew were probably going to be crushed. I mean, how do you feel when you’re 39-12 … and there’s only a slim chance you’re going to the post-season?”

That ending only slightly diminished what was otherwise a spectacular freshman campaign at the helm of Lions softball for the Saint Leo alumna. Erin Kinberger—or Erin Brunt, as she was known when she was behind the plate for the Lions from 2004 to 2007—guided the Lions to a 10-win improvement over their 2014 tally, perfecting a winning chemistry with players recruited by predecessor John Conway.

In the Sunshine State Conference, the Kinberger-led Lions posted a 15-9 record, just the second winning record in conference play over the past seven seasons.

Other milestones piled up along the way.

A 23-3 record at University Softball Stadium, best home record since 2008. An 11-game winning streak to end the season, with 50 consecutive scoreless innings and seven straight shutouts. Three-game sweeps over SSC rivals Eckerd, Lynn, and Florida Southern. Individually, junior Alana Tabel was Division II’s top pitcher with a 0.94 earned run average, after posting a 3.40 ERA the previous year.

But first on the agenda for Kinberger upon her return was changing the culture of the program.
Saint Leo softball is no stranger to post-season success, with an SSC title and six NCAA tournament appearances to its credit. But those six NCAA tourney trips have been buckshot across a span of 16 seasons, with sustained success having eluded the Lions.

Kinberger, her reputation built in part as a fiery competitor on two of those NCAA-bound teams, has brought purpose and passion to the diamond as Saint Leo’s head coach with the goal of making the Lions a consistent post-season player.

The purpose has taken the form of structure and paying attention to details—a John Wooden-esque requirement for players to wear the exact same T-shirts to practice, for example—while the passion came out in everything Kinberger and her staff did, from encouraging their outfielders to dive for balls to simply asking the young women how they were doing each day.

“At first, the kids were probably a little intimidated by that, but it really felt like overnight they just bought into it,” said Kinberger about her staff’s approach. “Bring in three young women who are passionate about the game and can’t imagine their lives without it, and that becomes contagious to the athletes.”

With newfound values having taken root in the program, Kinberger hopes that lessons and accomplishments of this past season have set the table for Saint Leo softball to rise to the top of the conference. No SSC team has reached the Division II national championship game since 2005; Kinberger’s Lions would love to break that streak.

“It comes down to building a tradition and a mentality,” said Kinberger. “Teaching them to believe what we’re capable of and post-season is where we belong, and turning it into an expectation.”

Growing up in Lynnbrook, NY, head men’s and women’s tennis coach Chris Frusci played three sports in high school—football, basketball, and baseball—and played football at Muhlenberg College (PA).

So how did he end up as a tennis coach? “The opportunity presented itself, and I took it,” he explained.

A talented athlete, Frusci did not have a single day off from sports in high school and excelled so much as quarterback that he earned a college scholarship. But when he was injured after just a year at Muhlenberg, he had to hang up his cleats and regroup. Remaining at Muhlenberg, he completed his bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a concentration in marketing, and graduated in 2008. At that point, he was offered a job at a media company in New York City, but the idea of a long commute and working in an office did not appeal to him. His love of sports was as strong as ever, so when he was offered a position as facilities supervisor and equipment manager for the Athletics Department at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), he knew that was a better fit.

Upon his arrival at NYIT, the tennis program was new. He and the tennis coach got to know each other, and before long, she asked him to join the program as a part-time assistant coach. He jumped at the chance and just a year later became head coach at NYIT. He saw remarkable success, proving the team to be a contender within the competitive world of Division II tennis its first four seasons. He was named 2014 Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Men’s and Women’s East Region Coach of the Year and 2014 East Coast Conference Co-Coach of the Year.

Now at Saint Leo, Frusci notes big contrasts between New York and Florida. “In New York, there might be two or three matches a year to get excited about, but here I’d say 15 out of 25 matches we play are critical—something is always on the line. A bad match in February can affect us in April,” he commented. “We have to be in the best shape possible. To be ready for three-hour matches in the heat, we have to commit to regular off-court workouts and practice on-court agility. The great thing about Florida is that we can train all year outside—but everyone else in our conference can, too.”

Coach Frusci looks at his teams and tries to remember that for all the student-athletes, playing tennis should be a positive four-year experience of traveling, training, and teamwork. In this mind, having a winning team means

  • having the right players in place—recruiting is hugely important;
  • getting players used to the training structure;
  • developing players and helping them reach their peak;
  • creating and maintaining a supportive team environment; and
  • having fun! It’s a long season.

For the upcoming year, he expects great things from the Lions. The men’s team ended the 2014-2015 season as No. 7 in the country, and the women’s team finished in the No. 6 spot. He would like to see both teams make it to nationals for 2015-2016.

So what does Coach Frusci do when he is not working out or coaching the team? “Eat. I love to try new restaurants. I’m a foodie.”

The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) released the final standings for the 2014-2015 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup in June, and Saint Leo University ranked eighth overall—the highest finish among all Sunshine State Conference institutions for the first time in school history.

The Lions led the Sunshine State Conference as the lone institution to finish in the top 10. In the Directors’ Cup 20-year history, the conference has only had nine teams rank among the top 10, and three schools rank among the top 5. Saint Leo’s eighth place ranking is the conference’s first top-10 finish since 2013, and is the best finish since Tampa ranked fifth in 2005.

Saint Leo University’s own Taylor Perez, a shortstop who completed his junior season in 2015, was selected in the 28th round (pick 845) by the Seattle Mariners.

Perez, from Winter Springs, FL, played in 47 games this season for the Lions, finishing with a .312 batting average in 189 at-bats. The junior racked up 34 RBI and 36 runs scored on the year with help from his 12 doubles, three triples, and two home runs. Perez stole eight bases this season which tied him for second most on the team. He contributed 17 multi-hit games to the Green and Gold’s effort this season.

Taylor Perez is the fourth Lion to be drafted in the last three seasons.

Jake Gilmour

Jake Gilmour
Men’s Lacrosse • Sophomore
Pickering, Ontario, Canada
Jake Gilmour had an immediate offensive impact for the Saint Leo men’s lacrosse team in his rookie campaign with 28 goals and a team-best 14 assists for 42 points, second on the team in scoring. He scored at least one goal in all 14 of the Lions’ games in 2015, and charted four goals in games against Adams State and Lynn. A Sunshine State Conference All-Freshman Team honoree, Gilmour’s five assists versus Lees-McRae was one shy of the school record.

Jonathan Glenn

Jonathan Glenn
Soccer • Class of 2011
Iceland
Jonathan Glenn was a member of the Trinidad & Tobago men’s national team that reached the quarterfinals of the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup. Glenn was one of the leading scorers in the Icelandic Premier League in 2014 and recently moved to Breiðablik.

Amanda Jakobsson

Amanda Jakobsson
Women’s Golf • Sophomore
Gothenburg, Sweden
Amanda Jakobsson joined the Saint Leo women’s golf team for the Spring 2015 semester, and immediately became a dynamic force on the team. She finished the season with a team-best 76.11 stroke average over 18 rounds, and was tied for fifth at the Sunshine State Conference Women’s Golf Championship with an eight-over 224. Jakobsson went on to shoot a 227 over three rounds at the NCAA Super Regional, finishing 19th overall.

Jordan Pendleton

Jordan Pendleton
Baseball • Sophomore
Palm Harbor, FL
Jordan Pendleton started off his freshman year battling for the third spot in Saint Leo baseball’s weekend rotation, and finished the year in the No. 2 spot with a stellar freshman season. He logged a 7-1 record with a 3.73 earned run average over 60.1 innings pitched, including Sunshine State Conference wins over Eckerd, Rollins, and Barry. Pendleton finished the season with 34 strikeouts, and was a Second Team All-SSC selection.

Abbie Ross

Abbie Ross
Women’s Lacrosse
Sophomore • Orlando, FL
Abbie Ross turned into a scoring machine for Saint Leo women’s lacrosse, charting a team-best 29 goals and three assists for 32 points in her rookie season. She scored in all but two of the Lions’ 15 games in 2015, including hat tricks against Pfeiffer, Bloomsburg, Newberry, and No. 10 Limestone. A Second Team All-Sunshine State Conference selection, Ross scored 29 goals and is tied for second among single-season goal leaders in the program’s 4-year history.

Alana Tabel

Alana Tabel
Softball • Senior
Loxahatchee, FL
The No. 1 pitcher for Saint Leo softball, Alana Tabel finished her junior season ranked No. 1 in all of Division II with her 0.94 earned run average, after allowing just 18 earned runs over 134.0 innings pitched. Tabel posted a 16-5 record during her junior campaign, and recorded 105 strikeouts in 2015 after recording 144 Ks during her first two seasons combined.