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Saint Leo Men’s Soccer

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Photo above from left to right: Anderson Lora ’20, Derrick Wade ’18, Stephen Kubasek ’08, John Flaherty ’67, Lesny Flores ’20, and Gerard Wiltshire ’17

Christopher Fils ’18
Branch Manager, Morgan Stanley

FilsWhen Christopher Fils finished his undergraduate degree in December 2008, the conditions for launching a career in finance were not just unfavorable, but downright hostile. It was the start of the Great Recession, and the finance sector was shedding thousands of jobs.

Some may have opted for another line of work. But Fils still aspired to financial counseling. The son of immigrants and the finance sector was shedding thousands of jobs.from Haiti and Jamaica, he had begun reading popular financial titles like The Millionaire Next Door in his teens. He managed to get a foot in the door at a financial services company in Tampa in 2009 in customer phone services, and stayed for about a year. “But I wanted to be in front of people, helping them plan.” He started in personal banking at another company and has since kept acquiring skills, professional licenses, and responsibilities.

He and his wife have also moved physically, from Tampa, to New York City, to California. Currently he is a branch manager for Morgan Stanley in Los Gatos, the southern end of Silicon Valley. While Fils was intrigued with New York, the opportunity to live in California and witness the interplay of technology and innovation with growth and wealth was compelling. He oversees 25 employees and is in charge of all sales, investments, compliance, and hiring.

Fils is also within months of earning his MBA online from Saint Leo. “It’s amazing,” he said, a little stunned. “I’m 30 years old. I came up through the recession.” His path demonstrates advice he now passes along to younger people: Be alert to opportunities—they can come up suddenly and subtly. And when you see an opportunity, “Move on it quickly.”


Ally Vincent ’14
Second Grade Inclusion Teacher, Citrus Springs Elementary School

_DSC7891When Ally Vincent was an elementary education student at University Campus, her professors and fellow classmates knew she was destined for great things. An active volunteer for campus events and participant in SERVE (Students Engaged in Rewarding Volunteer Experiences) trips, Vincent was always eager to lend a hand.

After graduation, she was afforded the opportunity to study at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, as part of the Rotary Global Scholar Program. Through this yearlong program, she earned a Master of Science in Inclusive and Special Education. She said it was “an amazing year” during which she did research, observed other teachers, and presented at a conference. She was also made an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Portobello, her host club during that year.

This advanced degree led her back to Florida and to Citrus Springs Elementary School in Citrus County, where she teaches a second grade inclusion class. She explained that “almost half of the students have disabilities of some kind—developmental, physical, or intellectual.” Her job
is challenging, but she said it is all worth it when she  “sees the smiles of the kids, and I know I can help make a difference.”

She explained: “The kids definitely keep me on my toes. Many don’t get the love and support they need from home. So it’s important to have good role models at school.”


Heather Grimes ’09
Chief Administrative Officer, Pasco County Clerk and Comptroller’s Office

fullsizeoutput_ca8fHeather Grimes has worn many hats in county government, from customer service and performance development administrator to assistant county administrator. Today, Grimes is the chief administrative officer for the Pasco County (FL) Clerk and Comptroller’s Office, and she stated that in all her various roles she has enjoyed being able to give back to her community.

Grimes earned her MBA online from Saint Leo, and she continues to contribute to the university. In June, Grimes participated in the Leaders in the Industry webinar presented by Saint Leo WorldWide Career Services and offered advice to students about working in government administration.

“The benefits are great, and the pay is competitive,” Grimes said, “but you don’t come to government to get rich.”

In Florida, governments participate in the Florida Retirement System. Additional perks of government employment include excellent leave policies and tuition reimbursement. “My MBA was 100 percent paid for by Pasco County, and they encouraged me to go after my master’s degree,” Grimes said.

According to Grimes, no matter where you live, there is always a government job to be found and one for every interest. “Once you understand government and how it works, it is easy for you to be able to transfer to another government job [since] you can speak the lingo,” she said.

More importantly, it is interesting and challenging work. “You can make a difference,” Grime said. “There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you are giving back to the community you live in. Find your happy place, and you will do good things there. I tell my employees this all the time. Make sure it is somewhere you enjoy working.”


Christopher Stanzione ’08
Lecturer, Georgia Institute of Technology

Stanzione_HeadshotWhat attracted Christopher Stanzione to Saint Leo? The warm weather, the beautiful campus, and the great psychology faculty. In fact, he found Saint Leo to be the perfect fit and quickly got involved in Tau Kappa Epsilon, was active in the Psychology Club, and served as a campus tour guide.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology, Stanzione headed straight to graduate school at the University of North Florida, focusing on research, and received his master’s degree in 2010. He went on to Georgia State University, where he earned a PhD in 2014.

Today, Dr. Stanzione is a lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he strives to be an “authentic mentor” to his students. His specialization is child psychology, specifically language and cognitive development of deaf and hard-of-hearing children. A second area of study is in personality theory, explaining that personality “is like gravity. You can’t see it, but you can feel its effects. Therefore, it’s important to measure personality traits from several angles.”

As an educational psychologist, one of his jobs is to study how individuals learn and retain knowledge, especially in classrooms. According to Stanzione, these areas not only include the obvious, like the learning process, but also extend to emotional, social, and cognitive outcomes for all students. However, it is not enough to solely study an area of psychology to become a good teacher. Teaching goes beyond methodology and involves creating real connections with students. One of his goals for each student is to become an informed consumer of knowledge. “As an instructor, it is my job to apply critical thinking techniques within my lectures and assignments. However, becoming an informed consumer of knowledge is not confined to the context of academic topics. I am also teaching students to be good people; celebrating those from different backgrounds or who have different views than our own, and this requires us to think critically, too.” His short-term goals include improving the teaching curriculum, increasing his effectiveness, strengthening the professor-student relationship, and helping students with research.

Down the road? “I hope to one day go on a sabbatical—go abroad and work at another university. I think that international experience would broaden my perspective.”


J.P. Ricciardi
Special Assistant to the General Manager, New York Mets

Ricciardi_Ricco0683What does it take to make it to the majors? For J.P. Ricciardi (standing left), his road to the New York Mets front office had some interesting turns.

It all started when he was recruited to play baseball for the Saint Leo Monarchs in the late 1970s. A second baseman, he came to Florida and soon found that the baseball team was like his family. When not in class, they spent most of their time playing and practicing together.

“The campus was great,” Ricciardi said. “But it sure has changed a lot—for the better. Saint Leo has come a long way, and I’m proud of what it’s become.”

Three years into his college career, Ricciardi signed with the New York Mets in 1980. He played in that team’s system for a few years, then went to work as a coach for the New York Yankees farm system. Along the way, he was also a minor league instructor and scout for the Oakland Athletics.

He landed his first job in the front office as special assistant to Sandy Alderson, the general manager of the Athletics. When Billy Beane assumed the GM role, Ricciardi transitioned to the director of Player Personnel. The success he had in those roles led him to being namedthe general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001.

“Saint Leo has come a long way, and I’m proud of what it’s become.” —J.P. Ricciardi

These days, 37 years later, he is working for the team that first drafted him, serving once again as special assistant to Sandy Alderson, now GM for the Mets. In this position, Ricciardi helps put the baseball team together, has a hand in player trades, evaluates the minor league system, and manages many of the operation’s processes.

“It’s a great job,” he said. “I get to be part of a terrific organization.”

When he is not in the office or on the field, he is spending time with his wife of 33 years and their two sons, who are both playing baseball in college—one a junior at Bryant College (RI) and the other in his first year at Florida Atlantic University.


John Flaherty ’67
Director of Alumni Relations, Salesian High School

_DSC5301Many alumni want to give back to Saint Leo but may not know what they can offer. For John Flaherty, the answeris simple: encourage high school students to choose Saint Leo for college.

A native of Yonkers, NY, Flaherty has worked at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, NY, for more than 50 years. A former principal, he is now director of Alumni Relations and has helped recruit more than 15 young men for Saint Leo. He says that all were happy with their choices and have gone on to find success in their careers. Among them are Stephen Kubasek ’08, who is now director of Advancement Services and Planned Giving at Saint Leo; Joseph P. “J.P.” Connellan ’85, Saint Leo trustee and a managing director at Citi; and current freshmen Michael Ahearn and Jordan Rivera.

Flaherty chose Saint Leo because he liked the small college setting. When he arrived, it was a two-year college, but then transitioned to a four-year college, so he stayed and completed his bachelor’s degree.

He said that at Saint Leo, he was able to try things that might have intimidated him at a large university, such as taking courses that were more difficult or outside his usual aptitude. He found that teachers and classmates supported him in all that he attempted.

In talking to high school students, he has discovered that “If you want to get into a student’s head, get there through his heart. Let them know that you care. That is what the Saint Leo faculty did for me, and I applied it in my career. The foundation of a Salesian education is based on the four educational principles of reason, religion, kindness, and presence.” Today, more than a dozen alumni can credit Flaherty for helping them make a good choice and join the Saint Leo family.


Mikael Angesjo ’08
Deputy Director, Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the United Kingdom

Mikael AngesioWhen Mikael Angesjo was considering where to attend college, he had many offers outside his native Sweden. In the end, however, he felt that Saint Leo was the perfect choice to continue his soccer career while gaining a good education. That education has led him to an interesting international career, including his current role as deputy director of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the United Kingdom.

As a student-athlete at Saint Leo, Angesjo was a business major with a marketing specialization and a member of the men’s soccer team that won the school’s first-ever conference championship. Looking back, he said, “The institution was like one big family, and such an atmosphere fosters excellence. I met some of my closest friends, excelled academically and reached Who’s Who, won the school’s first athletic championship in history, fell in love, and found God at Saint Leo. To do that in four years, I look back at it now and wonder how it was all possible.”

For a time, Angesjo was an agency-represented fashion model, working for some of the top international brands, including Armani, Calvin Klein, and Adidas, but these days he is focused on his director position with the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, the largest Swedish business network in the world, where he has applied a lot of the skills acquired at Saint Leo. He explained, “I work in 50 different sectors at the same time. There is a satisfaction in connecting companies with completely different profiles, which otherwise never would have thought to cross each other’s paths, and ultimately see it lead to fruitful partnerships. However, acting as the main point of contact for 400 exporting companies, and doing so in a country [UK] in the process of a historic (and highly complex) ‘divorce settlement’ from the European Union, comes with a certain level of pressure.”

What is next for Angesjo? “My goal is not very specific but the same as it has been—to always be in an environment where I feel I am developing. When you feel that is no longer the case, it is time to move to the next chapter.” He continued, “There are some plans in place I cannot share at this very moment in time, but one has to continue to challenge oneself.”

July 7, 2015. It is a day that will not be forgotten by any of the young men on the Saint Leo soccer team. On that day, they learned that Jules Verdin, their teammate and friend, died tragically in a hiking accident in Switzerland. Verdin, a native of Tongeren, Belgium, was hiking with his family near the Jungfrau in the Swiss municipality of Lauterbrunnen when the accident occurred. Verdin, who wore the No. 5 jersey, was named the 2014 Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year and a Second Team All-SSC selection. He had completed his first year at Saint Leo, recording two goals and two assists for six points.

“Jules was like a little brother to me,” said senior Henry Adu, a native of Ghent, Belgium, located just 90 miles from Verdin’s hometown. “When I got to Saint Leo, I dreamt that someone from Belgium would join the team, someone who spoke Dutch and shared the same interests and understood the Belgian lifestyle. From the first day we met, we became connected. We hung out almost every day.”



[Video was created and shared on YouTube by teammates of Jules Verdin]


Adu recalled, “I was in Miami at a CVS store when I heard the news from his mum. I was preparing to fly out of the country back to Europe for the summer. It was the most shocking and painful news I have ever experienced in my life. I broke down in the CVS store crying like a little child. The first person I called was Coach to tell him about it. I had no choice but to tell my teammates about it. The most difficult time was my 10-hour flight from Miami to London; all I could do was cry. I never got a second of sleep. I was just living in the memories and looking at his pictures.”

Rewind to November 21, 2014. The NCAA South Regional Final saw two SSC foes face off for the second time that season as the Lions met No. 3 Lynn on the Young Harris College (YHC) Soccer Field in Georgia. Lynn, the eventual 2014 National Champions, got the better hand, taking the game 3-0, ending Saint Leo’s season. Looking back now, it is fair to say that while ending a season can be tough, that is not why those men will remember YHC Soccer Field. Instead, it was the last time Verdin stepped on the field in Green and Gold.

Fast-forward to September 3, 2015. About 10 months passed since the Lions had gazed upon the YHC Soccer Field, an air of remembrance drifting among them as they took the pitch for the first time in the 2015 season. In a match-up of nationally ranked squads, No. 13 Saint Leo faced host No. 3 Young Harris. The team placed the No. 5 jersey across the bench, the place it would remain all season long.

“We came out flat, and we started the day exactly the same. We fought hard, we continued to battle, but we needed to focus on our composure and technical ability. [It] was very emotional for the team knowing this was the last place Jules Verdin played with us,” Head Coach Keith Fulk said, following the 3-0 defeat.

“This season was an emotional roller coaster for us, but I am extremely proud of every single one of my teammates for staying together and picking each other up”

— Matt Campbell, team captain

September 5, 2015. Just two days later, the Lions remained in Georgia for a neutral site game against Lees-McRae on YHC Soccer Field once again. In an opportunity to rid the field of demons that haunted it, Saint Leo entered the game with sharp focus. Less than one minute into the game, the team scored and eventually took the game 4-1.

“It was by far the most emotional week for these kids; they wanted to win so badly. In the first game they came out flat, [but the second game] was the complete opposite. They were outside on their ‘hype zone,’ and at halftime, I got them to calm down. Now it’s time to move forward,” Fulk said after the game, delivering a phrase that sat with the Lions all season.

It’s time to move forward.

September 19, 2015. Another memory, another moment. Saint Leo hit the road to face No. 1 Lynn. The same Lynn that bounced the Lions out of the NCAA Tournament the previous season. The same Lynn that Jules Verdin faced in his last game. Sometimes it’s hard to move forward, when forward resurfaces the past. The Lions reveled in this resurfacing, however, as they knocked off the top team in the nation, 3-1, on their own field.

Maybe it was a high they were not expecting. Maybe it was a high they could not handle. Following the win over Lynn, the wave of emotion hit a lull, sending the then 3-1 Lions on a three-game losing streak, bringing them to just 3-4 on the season, and 1-2 in SSC play. The path was not easy.

Bonding helps a team in any situation, but in a situation like this? Ultimately the most important thing a team can do is find their way back to the winning course without getting caught up in the emotion.

“This season was an emotional roller coaster for us, but I am extremely proud of every single one of my teammates for staying together and picking each other up,” senior and team captain Matt Campbell said. “Jules was such a huge part of our team. He was not only an unbelievable player, but he was a great teammate and was always willing to lend a helping hand, or give some comic relief when needed. His death was hard on all of us, and I believe it showed at the beginning of the season. It took some time for us to grieve together and learn how to cope with the loss of our brother.”

“… he would have run to the fans and slid on his knees and would start chanting, ‘Champions! Champions!’ All he wanted was to win a trophy for Saint Leo University and celebrate with the team. It felt very special to win something for him.”

— Henry Adu, teammate

Something clicked. Following their 3-4, 1-2 opening to the season, the Lions rebounded, turning in five-straight wins, taking down Nova Southeastern, Christian Brothers, Embry-Riddle, Tampa, and Florida Southern. They turned their record to 8-4, 4-2 in SSC, finding themselves right in the race for the SSC regular season title, with three games left, two in conference.

A game with Stetson, a Division I foe, ended the winning streak, but it was trivial in the ultimate storyline, as the Lions followed that Monday game with a Thursday game versus Eckerd, and a Saturday game versus Barry.

The Lions downed Eckerd, 4-2, in a heated battle, giving Saint Leo an opportunity to play for the championship.

October 31, 2015. Heading into the match-up with Barry, there were four teams that could earn the No. 1 seed for the SSC Tournament and the regular season title, depending on how Saturday finished. But the Lions had the upper hand. This was the final game to be played in the SSC regular season as all other games had already taken place, and Saint Leo knew that a win or a tie solidified their spot as the regular season champions.

Once again, the Lions took the pitch, with the No. 5 jersey on the bench. Eighty-five scoreless minutes passed before Barry lined up for a corner kick. The ball sailed off the foot of the Barry player, crossing the goal box, finding the head of a teammate who knocked it in. It seemed as though the Lions’ chances had ended with just five minutes of action remaining. But if there was one thing the Lions had learned over the season, it was resiliency. And resilient they were, as they charged down the field, earning a foul outside the box, giving Saint Leo an opportunity to score. Junior Maximilian Schulze-Geisthovel stepped up to the ball to take the free kick, blasting it past the wall of defenders, but Barry’s keeper was there to block the shot, sending it straight to the foot of freshman Yuga Yanagisawa, who was trailing the ricochet. Yanagisawa sunk the rebound and tied the game. Maybe it was divine intervention, fate, chance, destiny, or someone watching from above—call it what you may—but the Lions capitalized on the opportunity in front of them and hung on to the tie through the final three minutes of regular play and two overtime periods. The Saint Leo Lions were named the 2015 Sunshine State Conference regular season champions.

Saint-Leo_MSOC-SSC-champ-trophy_2735

“Oh, my gosh, that day! This was the very first time I cried in front of the team about Jules,” Adu reminisced. “I thought, ‘What would he do if he was here?’ Knowing him very well, I know he would have run to the fans and slid on his knees and would start chanting, ‘Champions! Champions!’ All he wanted was to win a trophy for Saint Leo University and celebrate with the team. It felt very special to win something for him.”

The path to success is usually not a paved road; for the Saint Leo men’s soccer team, a single day in October proved that no matter what happens, you can find triumph in any tragedy.