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Saint Leo Men’s Basketball

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Saint Leo’s Lions saw their winter and spring seasons cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, but they still represented the green and gold with pride. Here are some highlights:

Volleyball wins 1st NCAA South Region championship

Women's Volleyball wins NCAA South Region Championship

Saint Leo’s volleyball team captured the program’s first NCAA South Region Championship in a back-and-forth five-set contest against Barry University in December. Two of the five sets went into extra points as the teams battled to make the trip to the NCAA National Championship in Denver, CO. The Lions fell in the NCAA National Championship Quarterfinals to 11th-ranked Regis University.

The Lions concluded their season with a 24-11 record under first-year head coach Jason Skoch. Six seniors led the team to new heights with the South Region Championship and a trip to the national tournament.

Men’s cross country claims 4th Sunshine State Conference championship

Saint Leo men's cross country wins the Sunshine State Conference title

Saint Leo men’s cross country team raced to the program’s fourth title at the Sunshine State Conference Championships on October 26. The championships took place on the 8K course at the Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park in Boca Raton, FL, with a total of 40 points.

Then-junior Shane Bracken ran ahead of the pack to take first place, becoming the sixth individual title in program history. In addition, Bracken helped lead the team to a third place finish at the NCAA South Regional and placed 30th at the 2019 NCAA DII XC National Championship in Sacramento, CA. He was a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-South Region honoree.

University’s 21st sport, Acrobatics & Tumbling, begins competition

Acrobatics and Tumbling

The university’s 21st intercollegiate sport, Acrobatics & Tumbling (A&T) embarked on its inaugural season in early February with its first meet against Limestone College in Gaffney, SC.

Before the team could hold its first-ever home meet, its season was ended with the suspension of spring athletics events.

Acrobatics & Tumbling, a discipline of USA Gymnastics, is the evolution of different forms of gymnastics and involves tumbling, tosses, acrobatic lifts, and pyramids. Teams participate in head-to-head competition and are scored in six events, including compulsory, acro, pyramid, toss, tumbling, and team.

One of the fastest growing sports among NCAA institutions, acrobatics and tumbling is Saint Leo’s 12th offering in the women’s athletics program. 

Saint Leo player earns first women’s lacrosse All-America nod

Saint Leo lacrosse player Ashley Salvett

Ashley Salvett on May 5 became the first Saint Leo women’s lacrosse student-athlete to receive an All-America title. The 2020 Inside Lacrosse Women’s Maverik Division II Media All-America listed Salvett among the two defensive honorable mention selections.
 
The Cicero-North Syracuse High School (NY) graduate transferred to Saint Leo for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The prestigious All-America title rounds off her list of accolades which includes being the program’s first All-Sunshine State Conference (SSC) First Team selection (defensive) and Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) All-South Region Second Team honor (defensive), as well as being named to the SSC Commissioner’s Honor Roll.
 

New Saint Leo records set in men’s basketball

Saint Leo basketball player Kyran McClure

Kyran McClure became the all-time program leader in three-pointers made in a single season, as well as the free throws-made leader in a single season. Making 207 free throws placed McClure at the top of the NCAA Division II in 2019-2020.
 
McClure’s 207 free throws eclipsed the mark Tyrone Graves set in the 1991-92 season with 165. McClure also broke the program’s single-season record for three-pointers with 92, passing the prolific Marcus Dewberry’s 88 in 2015-16.

Joining McClure in the record book for assists and points was Isaiah Hill. He tied McClure with 276 career assists and became the 25th player to score 1,000 career points.

Swimmers compete at nationals prior to cancellation

Matthew DanielMatthew Daniel was the lone Saint Leo men’s swimmer who was able to compete at the 2020 NCAA Championships on March 11 prior to the cancellation of the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He competed in the morning session of the opening day and took 16th in the 1,000-freestyle, earning a point toward the team total and earning honorable mention All-America honors from the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA).

Saint Leo swimmer Mitrovic doing the breaststrokeKosta Mitrovic was scheduled to race in the 200 breaststroke on day four of the championships but was never able to compete following the cancellation. He earned his career first team All-America honors from CSCAA after earning honorable mention All-America honors in 2018, while finishing 14th in the 200 breaststroke.

For the women’s swimming team, Vittoria Bonsanti Feniello also was able to compete at the 2020 NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships on March 11, prior to the cancellation of all sports. The pair represented the Saint Leo men’s and women’s swimming teams in the 1,000 freestyle during the opening session of the championships. Bonsanti Feniello took 24th overall in the 1,000 freestyle.

Thomas J. Kaiser, MD, is achieving what many young biology majors everywhere hope for when they first walk into the science classrooms and labs.

ThomasKaiserKaiser, 30, is well on his way to becoming an orthopedic surgeon and specialist, a possibility he began contemplating as a high school and college athlete. The former Lions basketball forward (No. 25) is currently in the fourth year of the five-year residency program at the University of Florida Health System in Jacksonville. Residency is the period right after medical school (or other physician training) when licensed new graduates work under the tutelage of more senior doctors to acquire in-depth training in a particular area. Examples are family medicine, pediatrics, cardiology, or in Kaiser’s case, orthopedics—the care of the whole skeletal system of bones, muscles, ligaments, and joints.

While the young doctor (and newlywed) still has some milestones to pass, Kaiser has already completed the three most intense years of his residency program. Just getting an orthopedic residency is an accomplishment in itself. New doctors have to compete for limited spots; those who are not admitted have to make another plan.

Kaiser remembers first becoming intrigued with skeletal repair when he was growing up and attending Catholic schools in Tampa. Service projects periodically brought him to Shriners Hospitals for Children-Tampa, where his mother worked as a nurse. He encountered children who came from as far as Central America for procedures to repair limbs, and he discovered orthopedic medicine.

Thomas-Kaiser-'06-playing-basketball-for-Jesuit
Kaiser wore No. 25 for Jesuit High School, as well as Saint Leo.

Another interest took hold during his teens that played a part in his path: playing competitive basketball for the Jesuit High School Tigers in Tampa (wearing No. 25 then, too). “My dream was to play basketball in college. Saint Leo offered a full scholarship.” That meant he could study biology seriously and play basketball where his family could attend home games. Indeed, he played for three years and graduated summa cum laude. And then he was off—straight into the medical school of his choice—at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He graduated with his medical degree in 2014.

Looking back at his time at Saint Leo, Kaiser credits the rigor of being a student-athlete with instilling in him good time-management practices. Another benefit was being able to get to know and shadow the men’s basketball team physician for a couple of seasons, which further honed his interest in orthopedics. He may even seek a fellowship in sports orthopedics after this residency.

Academically, Kaiser was influenced by Saint Leo faculty to learn to look at problems in multiple ways for solutions, and to be a lifelong learner. That adaptability is vital in orthopedics, because so many different activities, maladies, and accidents require treatment, and patients span generations. So it is vital that orthopedists be able to work with all kinds of patients and be open to new or varied treatment options.

There are multiple challenges for the patient, too. The healing process involves more than just surgery. There is usually physical therapy, and patients may feel lonely, stuck, or withdrawn for a while. Things turn for the better as patients regain mobility and their spirits lift, Kaiser said. Then comes the point where the young doctor sees in his patients’ lives his professional reward: “Getting them back to functioning, back to their life before.”

Growing up in Belgium, Emmanuel Diyoka Mulowayi loved playing basketball. Part of a big family from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he also developed a strong faith and a commitment to helping other people. “My mom is the one who introduced me to Christ and to the love of people,” he said. “She is a woman of great values who always pushed me to keep my eyes on Christ and pursue my dreams.” Now as a graduate student at Saint Leo, he is able to cultivate all those parts of his life at once.

He came to Saint Leo based on advice from his friends Nick Catt and Benjamin Dupont ’10, but he has made his experience his own. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies in 2015 and is pursuing an MBA with a project management specialization. A former semiprofessional basketball player in his home country, he lends his talent to the Saint Leo Lions as an assistant basketball coach—for the women’s team in 2015-2016 and this year for the men’s team.

“Emmanuel is one of the most humble young men I’ve ever met,” said Men’s Basketball Head Coach Vince Alexander. “He demonstrates the core values of Saint Leo and is a representative of our institution wherever he goes.”

In addition, Mulowayi is a graduate assistant in the University Ministry office. “It is beautiful to see students give their life to Christ,” he explained.

In 2013, he took on an internship in Congo. He worked with rape victims in Kivu, a region of war. That experience “opened my eyes,” he said. “I realized how fortunate I was to grow up in Belgium and get an education in America.”

Mulowayi notes that being a student at Saint Leo has given him the confidence to pursue his goals, which include one day working with an international organization to provide assistance to young people in Africa. He hopes to help them build skills and develop opportunities to play basketball or other sports in high school and college in America. “I hope that through sport I can impact and help kids in Congo to become the future of the country.”

Every great basketball team can benefit from a sixth man—a talented, multifaceted player who comes off the bench with great energy and effort.

During the 2015-2016 season, the Saint Leo men’s and women’s basketball teams experienced a different sort of sixth man—a group from the local community who offered invaluable support and encouragement. Led by Lake Jovita residents and longtime Saint Leo fans Terry and Linda Spaight, couples and families in the surrounding areas—including Lake Jovita, Dade City, and Zephyrhills—rallied around the players and invited them into their homes.

It all started four years ago when the Spaights decided to have a season tip-off party for the men’s team. As the years followed, they learned—since the university Dining Hall is closed during the Christmas holidays—coaches were often responsible for making sure the players were fed while on break. With that knowledge, the couple began organizing team meals, and enthusiasm began to grow.

Joining in the effort was a group of snowbirds from Zephyrhills. These men and women, proudly donning their bright green and yellow sweatshirts, are known for cheering on the teams at home games. Hailing from Illinois, Maine, and other northern states, the snowbirds have quickly become an important part of the fan base.

Over the 2015 Christmas holidays, the teams were treated to a total of 22 meals. Along the way, players were partnered with couples and families and got to know them. They enjoyed food, played games, and bonded with these adoptive parents and grandparents. As an added bonus, the two teams—who often see one another only at practice and games or in the weight room—enjoyed spending time together in a family atmosphere. As Linda Spaight explained, “It was a wonderful way to connect the community with Saint Leo.” Her hope is that the momentum will continue to build and the community support will continue to grow in the years to come.

“I believe their support is irreplaceable, not only to Saint Leo athletics but to the entire community. They are truly our sixth man. It’s very comforting when I walk in the gym and see them there.”
—Coach Vince Alexander