For the first time in program history, the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) Tournament title belongs to Saint Leo men’s basketball for the 2020-2021 season. It was no easy feat, as the team had to take down the 25-time conference and SSC tournament champions, Florida Southern College. The Lions won 83-70 at the tournament held in March at University Campus.
The Lions (7-1) took the title with exceptional play from Rusty Moorer and Frank Webb Jr. Both players, who were named to the SSC All-Tournament Team, put up double-digits as Moorer led all scorers with 28 on the night. Webb notched another double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds on the way to earning the Tournament Most Valuable Player honor.
Jared Coomer heard his name called for the all-tournament team after his performance throughout the tournament, helping the Lions achieve a game-high of 13 rebounds and 12 on the defensive front. Saint Leo claimed the rebounding battle, 50-42.
Wade Coomer provided the spark the Green and Gold needed by adding 11 points off the bench and hit clutch threes down the stretch to build the lead for the Lions.
After winning the tournament, Saint Leo men’s basketball earned a total of five All-SSC awards, including Newcomer of the Year and Coach of the Year. Conference coaches selected Frank Webb Jr. as the Newcomer of the Year, while Coach Lance Randall was tabbed the Coach of the Year.
The Saint Leo women’s lacrosse program celebrated its first-ever Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) All-Americans this spring. Saint Leo women’s lacrosse attacker Ashlee Wilsynski, midfielder Delaney Chrisco, and defender Ashley Salvett were among the 48 student-athletes selected for one of three 2021 Division II All-American teams.
Saint Leo University was one of 21 institutions represented in the organization’s All-American accolades. Wilsynski, Chrisco, and Salvett each received third-team honors among their respective positions.
“We have been fortunate in the Sunshine State Conference to regularly compete against some of the best players in DII, but today is the first day we can say at Saint Leo that some of the best wear our uniforms,” said Caitlin Hansen, head coach of Saint Leo women’s lacrosse. “To have three players named IWLCA All-Americans is amazing for these individuals, their teammates, and our program. I am so proud!”
Saint Leo women’s lacrosse wrapped up the shortened 2021 season with a 5-5 overall record, going 3-3 in the Sunshine State Conference. The Lions finished the year ranked 22nd among the IWLCA Division II Coaches’ Poll and fourth among the seven conference teams that opted into competing during the season.
Saint Leo University Athletics is enjoying another reason to celebrate the accomplishments of its athletes during the 2019-2020 year. A record number of student-athletes were honored for the high grades they earned while competing on the playing fields, courts, track, golf course, and running trails, and in the gymnasium and pool.
There were 139 Lions named as recipients of the Division 2 Athletics Directors Association (D2 ADA) Academic Achievement Award. To receive the honor, a student-athlete must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale, have attended a minimum of two years (four semesters) of college-level work, and have been an active member of an intercollegiate team during his or her last academic year.
Baseball led the way for the Lions with 14 honorees, followed closely by softball with 11 recipients. Twenty sports were represented in all.
Having so many student-athletes overall named recipients of the award is, in itself, a distinction: Saint Leo’s 139 award recipients surpassed the previous university record of 101 honorees. That record was set during the 2017-2018 academic year.
Among schools in the Sunshine State Conference, Saint Leo ranked second behind Florida Southern College’s 167 honorees. Saint Leo ranked 14 overall among Division II programs.
A complete list of Lions honored is available for viewing, with the athletes’ names organized by their sport. The award recipients represent more than30 percent of the 455 student-athletes who competed during the year.
Then-junior Henrik Dahrendorff etched his name firmly in the Saint Leo swimming record books this past spring, achieving a feat that no other Lions swimmer has accomplished in the program’s history—he became the first NCAA national champion.
After overcoming a heartbreaking finish in the 100 breaststroke the day before, he was able to claim top honors in the 200 breaststroke. Dahrendorff seized the championship with a Saint Leo record-setting time of 1:56.09, which surpassed his previous program best set earlier in the season.
Dahrendorff is now one of three Saint Leo student-athletes who can call themselves an individual national champion, joining Marie Coors ’17 of women’s golf and Hugo Bernard ’16 of men’s golf.
Tennis Player Racks up Three Honors during Freshmen Year
Bruno Faletto of the Saint Leo men’s tennis team added three distinct honors to his long list of accomplishments following his first season of collegiate competition. Faletto, from Santiago, Chile, was named a men’s singles All-American and National Rookie of the Year by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), as well as Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year.
Faletto played in the No. 1 spot for the Lions during the Green and Gold’s 16-10 season, advancing to the first round of NCAA Division II South Regional II. He helped Saint Leo reach its highest team national ranking of fourth in the country.
In individual rankings, he tallied a season-high singles ranking of ninth on April 24. Faletto notched victories over three other All-Americans throughout the season, including No. 3 Serdar Bojadjiev (West Florida), No. 12 Valetin Masse (Hawaii Pacific), and No. 13 Nicolo De Fraia (Rollins).
Faletto earned a 19-3 record in first singles and closed his freshman campaign ranked ninth in the ITA national poll with a 23.20 season average.
Saint Leo Golfers Compete Internationally
Saint Leo Senior represents Trinidad and Tobago in Pan American Games
During the summer, Saint Leo senior Izzy Lawrence was selected to represent Trinidad and Tobago, her native country, in the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. She was one of 98 athletes selected and was the lone golfer on the list. The Pan American Games, also referred to as the Pan Am Games, brings together athletes from the Americas every four years before the Summer Olympic Games to compete.
“I’ve played for my country for a while now, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be chosen to play at the Pan Am Games,” Lawrence said. “Playing for my country is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I am honored to be given this opportunity to compete at this level.”
Lawrence, a three-time Women’s Golf Coaches Association Scholar All-American, will look to guide the women’s golf team to a top-three finish at the Sunshine State Conference and travel back to the NCAA tournament this year.
“What an honor to play for your country,” Head Women’s Golf Coach Lyndsey Bevill said. “Not only is she representing Trinidad and Tobago, but she is representing Saint Leo University at a high level of competition. I am so proud of all she has accomplished thus far on and off the golf course.”
Alumna Wins German National Championship for Golf
Saint Leo alumna Marie Coors ’17 won the 2019 Deutsche Meisterschaften (the German National Championship) with a 273, 14-under par at the Golf Club Valley in Munich, Germany.
Coors, the lone female NCAA national champion in Saint Leo history, opened up the tournament with a four-under 68. The former Lion then carded a five-under 67 before shooting a two-over 74 to sit at 209 (-7) for three rounds.
Heading into the final day of the championship, Coors fired off a seven-under 65 to capture the national championship crown with a four-round score of 14-under 274.
This year marked the 73rd championship games in Germany. A total of 50 women and 89 men competed in the golf championship.
Saint Leo Athletics Hall of Famer John Swart Passes Away
Former Saint Leo University coach and athletics administrator John Swart passed away May 1, 2019, at the age of 82. Swart served as an assistant athletic director; assistant men’s basketball coach; junior varsity baseball coach; head men’s soccer coach; head women’s basketball coach; NCAA compliance officer; and director of the intramurals department during his 40-year career at Saint Leo.
Swart was elected to the Saint Leo University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000 and is a member of three halls of fame—Saint Leo, Lincoln College, and Illinois State University.
“John was one of the pioneers for Saint Leo Athletics,” said Saint Leo University Vice President and Director of Athletics Francis Reidy. “When I arrived in 1988, he was really good to me and provided insight into coaching and NCAA compliance. He served Saint Leo well in many different positions through the years, was the ultimate professional, and remained a loyal fan during his retirement days.”
In August of 1968, San Antonio (FL) became his permanent residence as he became a professor of physical education and sports management at Saint Leo College. Swart was a professor at Saint Leo for 40 years and continued as an adjunct professor for three more years. He was the first coordinator of the physical education major, and the designed concepts of wellness programs at Saint Leo. He was also the president of the Florida Intercollegiate Soccer Coaches Association and chair of the Sunshine State Conference Women’s Basketball Coaches Committee.
He served as the men’s soccer head coach for 12 seasons (1971-1982) while acting as the head coach of the women’s basketball program for nine years (1983-1992). Swart retired from Saint Leo in 2008 and was an active member of the First United Methodist Church in Dade City, FL.
This spring, the Saint Leo University men’s lacrosse, men’s golf, women’s track, and softball teams all competed for NCAA Division II National Championships—two of which were first-time appearances for the programs.
Making Sunshine State Conference History
This past spring, former Saint Leo University President Dr. Arthur F. Kirk Jr. was one of nine members inducted into the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame. Kirk, who served as the university’s president from 1997-2015, became the 16th Saint Leo Sunshine State Conference Hall of Famer. A two-time president of the Sunshine State Conference, Kirk raised Saint Leo’s national profile by placing 18th in the Learfield Director’s Cup in 2014, increasing to eighth in 2015, and second in 2016. Under his leadership, the Athletics Department doubled in size and captured its first Mayor’s Cup, while adding a tennis facility, softball stadium, parking garage with a lacrosse field installed on top, a soccer-only facility, and lights at each of the new venues.
Fran Reidy Named Athletic Director of the Year
For the third time in six years, Saint Leo Vice President and Director of Athletics Francis X. Reidy was named the Division II Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year. Reidy was one of 28 athletics directors to earn the award this year from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA). The ADOY Award highlights the efforts of athletics directors at all levels for their commitment and positive contributions to student-athletes, campuses, and their surrounding communities.
Saint Leo Athletics Places Fourth in Learfield Directors’ Cup
“We have an incredible staff and student-athletes who strive for excellence,” said Francis X. Reidy, vice president and director of athletics. “Our five-year run of great finishes is a remarkable feat when you consider where Saint Leo was just a short time ago. We are proud of our two top-five finishes over the last three years as we strive to be one of the best all-around programs in Division II.”
After climbing seven spots at the NCAA Division II South/Southeast Super Regional, men’s golf earned a spot to advance to Muscle Shoals, AL, for the 2018 national championships. In the end, the Lions fell 3-2 to Sunshine State Conference foe and No. 3 seed Barry University.
Men’s golf player Alberto Castagnara (sophomore)
A group of men’s soccer alumni and former staff paid tribute to former teammate Jules Verdin during Senior Day ceremonies, prior to the final home game of the 2017 season on October 25, 2017, against the University of Tampa. Verdin, the 2014 Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year who passed away in July 2015, would have been a senior. Honoring him with the tribute were (left to right) Coach Emmanuel D. Mulowayi, Bafou Sanogo, Chris Madden, Vincent Wiskowski, Bo Barry, Franck Bayebanen, Mike Painter, Davis Hall, Jorge Braham, Andy Garcia, Brandon Rivera, and Henry Adu.
Marie Coors ’17 Earns National Award
Former Saint Leo women’s golfer, Marie Coors ’17 (pictured with Athletic Director Francis X. Reidy) was honored with the NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award at the NCAA Honors Celebration on January 17 in Indianapolis, IN. In competition for the Lions, Coors won the 2017 NCAA Division II women’s golf individual national title. She was also named the 2016-2017 Sunshine State Conference Golfer of the Year, Women’s Female Athlete of the Year, and Woman of the Year, among many other accolades. She graduated with a 4.0 grade average, rounded.
Women’s Cross Country Claims NCAA South Region Crown
In November, the Saint Leo women’s cross country team turned in a dominating performance befitting its veteran lineup and captured the program’s first NCAA South Region title. In addition, Colett Rampf captured her third straight NCAA South Region individual crown, crossing the finish line in 20:49.14, a full 52 seconds ahead of the second-place runner. Rampf (at far left) was also named Sunshine State Conference Runner of the Year and came in eighth at the NCAA D II cross country national championship.
Saint Leo’s tennis teams volunteered at Love One Another at the Pasco County Community Services Nutrition Center in Dade City, FL, on Sunday, November 12. Love One Another is an outreach ministry that serves a hot meal to those in need every Sunday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Clothing, toiletry items, and dog and cat food for pets are also distributed. Saint Leo’s men’s and women’s tennis teams served meals.
Saint Leo’s Own Beastmaster
In Season One, Episode Nine, of Netflix’s Ultimate Beastmaster, Ken Corigliano ’06 did his nation proud by winning the competition against 11 others and being named “Beastmaster.” After giving his all, Corigliano placed fourth in the finale for Ultimate Beastmaster.
“As one of the top four, I bested 104 athletes including five other show winners,” the U.S. Air Force major explained. “These athletes were pros, medalists, or they owned gyms. I used what I learned from my time as a Saint Leo athlete to compete against the world’s greatest.”
Corigliano ran cross country for the Lions. He was also chosen to represent the SSC as a member of the NCAA Division II 40th Anniversary Tribute Team in 2013. Corigliano noted that he initially
failed his fitness test at Saint Leo. What a transformation!
A look at student-athletes who are making their mark.
Women’s Soccer • Senior
The defender who transitioned to the left wing midyear saw action in 15 games with two goals and a .625 shots-on-goal-percentage. She scored the game-winning goal against Nova Southeastern on November 6 to lift the Lions to the Sunshine State Conference Tournament title. As one of five seniors set to return to the pitch in 2017, Covas will help the Lions squad build off a 13-4-1 season and an NCAA Second Round appearance, which Saint Leo hosted at University Field.
Women’s Cross Country • Junior
Ormond Beach, FL
Bayliff took All-South Region and All-Sunshine State Conference honors during her sophomore season, and finished in second place at the SSC cross country meet with a time of 21:05.64. She also placed seventh at the NCAA South Region meet on Saint Leo’s challenging home course at The Abbey Course, posting a time of 22:38.61. Bayliff scored points in all seven events in 2016 as the Lions’ No. 2 runner.
Baseball • Junior
Jensen Beach, FL
Bauman was arguably Saint Leo baseball’s most reliable pitcher during the 2017 season. The lefthander from Jensen Beach and transfer from St. John’s University (NY) paced the Lions with 81 strikeouts, tied for eighth in the Sunshine State Conference, and posted a 4.75 ERA over 85-and-a-third innings pitched. Bauman finished the 2017 season with 12 strikeouts over six complete innings of work in a 5-4 Saint Leo victory over No. 23 Florida Southern.
Men’s Lacrosse • Senior
Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
Jake Bye made an immediate impact for the Lions in 2017. The defenseman started every game, leading the team with 26 caused turnovers, and adding 37 ground balls. Bye also added three goals on successful clears. His feats earned him a Sunshine State Conference Defensive Player of the Week honor, and he was the lone Lion to earn All-SSC First Team honors.
Men’s Tennis • Junior
In his first season, Thomas Grinberg cemented himself as the No. 1 singles player and was part of the No. 1 doubles pair all year. He finished as the No. 5 player in the DII national singles rankings, and earned All-American honors. His successes in doubles matches earned him All-American honors as well. He was named the South Region Player of the Year and earned First Team All-SSC honors.
Women’s Basketball • Sophomore
Gina Brierley finished her rookie season averaging 6.9 points and 2.3 assists, and posted a season-high 22 points at Eckerd (12/10) where she went 8-for-8 from the field. This summer, Brierley was picked to represent Great Britain at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) U20 Women’s European Championship, which took place July 8-16 in Eilat, Israel.
Marie Coors graduated last spring as the most accomplished student-athlete in Saint Leo University history, period. There is nobody even close.
2017 NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Individual National Champion
NCAA Elite 90 Award recipient
2017 WGCA Division II Golfer of the Year
2017 WGCA First Team All-American
2017 WGCA All-American Scholar
2017 NCAA Woman of the Year nominee for the Sunshine State Conference
2017 Sunshine State Conference Women’s Golfer of the Year
2017 Sunshine State Conference First Team All-Conference
2017 CoSIDA Division II At-Large Academic All-America of the Year
2016-2017 Sunshine State Conference Female Athlete of the Year
2016-2017 Sunshine State Conference Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year
2016-2017 Sunshine State Conference Woman of the Year
Clara McDonald Olson Scholastic Excellence Award recipient
The nature of collegiate women’s golf is such that few on the Saint Leo University campus probably ever saw Marie Coors swing a club or make a putt. Hers was probably never among the most recognizable faces among Saint Leo student-athletes.
But you can bet that on the golf course, in every tournament in which she played, the rest of the field knew exactly who Marie Coors was—and where she was on the scoreboard. She was simply that fearsome an opponent.
Individual national champion. Two-time Sunshine State Conference individual champion. National athlete of the year in her sport. Academic All-America of the Year for all of NCAA Division II.
That last honor alone puts her in rarefied air. For comparison, consider who has won the Academic All-America of the Year award in the media-centric world of Division I athletics: five-time FCS football champion Carson Wentz from North Dakota State, Alabama’s NCAA all-around gymnastics champion Kim Jacob, and Oregon distance runner and Olympian Galen Rupp. Also on the list: UConn basketball players Maya Moore and Emeka Okafor, Utah quarterback Alex Smith, and Tennessee football legend Peyton Manning.
Coors’ steely-eyed determination on the golf course gave way to equal resolve in the classroom. She graduated with a 4.00 grade point average, rounded; the only thing that marred her near perfect academic career was the A- she received in SLU 100, “First Year Experience,” a one-credit class during her freshman year after arriving from Gross-Zimmern, Germany. Coors concluded her Saint Leo experience as the recipient of the 2017 Clara McDonald Olson Scholastic Excellence Award, presented to the member of the graduating class with the highest GPA obtained over four years at Saint Leo.
She was Saint Leo’s first recipient of an NCAA Elite 90 Award, which goes to the student-athlete with the highest GPA in a national championship event. And the awards may continue to roll in well after this magazine appears in your mailbox.
Perfection is in the eye of the beholder on the golf course. What is the perfect way to play any given hole? What club is the right one for the situation? Victory can be a relative concept when the opponents are both your fellow competitors and the course itself. Not to mention the fact that excelling in a round of golf is as much cerebral as it is physical—but which is more important?
Over four years at Saint Leo, Marie Coors—a champion both in the classroom and on the golf course— made the question irrelevant because time and time again she triumphed at both. As a student and an athlete, she found perfection without being perfect.
And if you were among the relative few who saw her play or got to meet her in the hallways around University Campus, count yourself fortunate for the experience.
The Saint Leo softball team won its second consecutive Sunshine State Conference title, its third in five years, after posting a 17-7 record in conference and 37-15 overall. Since returning to her alma mater, head coach Erin Kinberger ’07 has guided her teams to 37 wins or more in her third straight season. Kinberger was named the SSC Softball Coach of the Year.
A Different Kind of Home Field Advantage
When you ask college coaches what makes their programs special, you may hear among their answers that the team is like a family. Some may even say their college is like home. Not all programs live up to that ideal, but when they do, great things can happen.
As the 2017-2018 year begins at Saint Leo University, we welcome two new head coaches—one who is returning home and the other who has found a new home.
When Coach Tony Paris first joined Saint Leo more than 20 years ago in 1996, he served as assistant men’s soccer coach. Working closely with Fran Reidy—then head men’s soccer coach and current director of Intercollegiate Athletics for Saint Leo—he quickly embraced the Saint Leo culture. He left in 1999 to work with a Scandinavian soccer club and returned the following year to start the women’s soccer program at Saint Leo. By 2003, the new program had a remarkable season and he was named the Sunshine State Conference Coach of the Year. Along the way, he committed himself to the core values, which he says speak to him and have stayed with him even when he is not at Saint Leo. “They are my road map,” he said.
“It is a great opportunity that Saint Leo gave me to come back. For me, it isn’t work; it’s a passion, a love for this college.”
— Coach Tony Paris
In 2005, Coach Paris was lured away from Saint Leo once again, by the same Scandinavian club, but his heart remained with the Lions. Now, all these years later, he has returned to Saint Leo to serve as head men’s soccer coach. “It is a great opportunity that Saint Leo gave me to come back,” he explained. “For me, it isn’t work; it’s a passion, a love for this college.”
Meanwhile, halfway across the country, Coach Rick O’Dette had been enjoying a successful run at St. Joseph’s College, a private Catholic institution in Rensselaer, IN. Over 17 seasons as head baseball coach for his alma mater, he had amassed a 494-407-4 overall record and led the Pumas to NCAA Regional play four times. He was dug in, surrounded by staff, faculty, students, parents, and players who really were like family.
“My family and I are thrilled to be part of this great community.”
— Coach Rick O’Dette
During the 2016-2017 year, Coach O’Dette and the rest of the St. Joseph community learned that the college was experiencing financial difficulty—so dire that the school would close at the end of the academic year. Telling his wife, Sherry, and his children, Ricky and Alyssa, was “the worst night of my life,” he said. Suddenly faced with losing his home, both on the field and off, O’Dette and his family were searching for a new place to live and work.
To the benefit of the Lions, Coach O’Dette chose Saint Leo as his new home and joins the university as its new head baseball coach this year. As an added bonus, many St. Joseph Pumas fans have stated they are now Lions fans and will be following Coach O’Dette’s success at Saint Leo.
“I feel fortunate to have found a situation similar to St. Joe—the people, the administration, all caring about the players,” said O’Dette. “My family and I are thrilled to be part of this great community.”
Chad Berryhill, who captured a national championship as head coach at Hillsborough Community College (HCC, Tampa, FL), has been named the head men’s and women’s tennis coach at Saint Leo. He spent the past four seasons as head coach at Ferris State University (Big Rapids, MI), guiding his team to the “final four” of the 2016 NCAA Division II Men’s Tennis Championship. As Ferris State’s head coach, Berryhill was the 2015 and 2016 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. While at HCC, Berryhill was a four-time Florida Community College Athletic Association Coach of the Year from 2006 to 2009, and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Region IV Coach of the Year in 2008 and 2009.
Berryhill, a native of Lansing, MI, is a 2005 graduate of Ferris State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing. He went on to receive his Master of Science with a concentration in physical education from the University of South Florida in 2009.
Saint Leo Hosts NCAA DII Cross Country Championships
On Saturday, November 19, Saint Leo welcomed cross country teams from around the United States and Canada to the NCAA Division II Championships. The meet was staged at the Abbey Golf Course, across State Road 52 from University Campus. Both the Saint Leo men’s and women’s teams qualified for the championship. In the end, the Adams State men and Grand Valley State women brought home the 2016 team titles.
“This was a great day for our veterans and a learning experience for our rookies,” said Kent Reiber, Saint Leo’s head men’s and women’s cross country coach.
Saint Leo senior Rafal Matuszczak placed 39th overall in the men’s race, and junior Colett Rampf placed 14th in the women’s race. Both came away with All-America honors.
“It was a privilege to be able to host the entire NCAA Division II community on our campus for this national championship, and showcase all that Saint Leo and the larger Tampa Bay region has to offer,” said Francis X. Reidy, Saint Leo’s director of athletics. “We will continue to seek opportunities to allow our student-athletes to compete for national championships at their home venue and build our Saint Leo brand.”
Head Cross Country Coach Kent Reiber was named the 2016 SSC Coach of the Year for men’s and women’s cross country. He earned the SSC Coach of the Year title for men’s cross country in 2015.
Volleyball Head Coach Sam Cibrone was named the 2016 SSC Coach of the Year. This marks the second-straight year that Cibrone earned the Coach of the Year honor and his third overall.
The Saint Leo women’s soccer team defeated Palm Beach Atlantic 4-0 on October 30 to claim the Sunshine State
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.
“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.
Following the Saint Leo men’s golf program’s historic National Semifinal finish in the 2015 NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championships, here’s a look at a Lion who continues to succeed in the
Marc Bayram was a four-year starter for the Saint Leo men’s golf team before earning his undergraduate degree in business administration with a minor in golf course management. He immediately put his experience inside and outside of the classroom to use by working in the golf industry as a teacher, coach, and administrator. He began his teaching career at Plantation Palms Golf Club in Land O’Lakes, FL, and was also the head coach of nearby Sunlake High School. Marc also gave back to Saint Leo golf during that time, serving as an assistant golf coach for both the men’s and women’s programs.
“Seeing the success of the  team has made me a really proud Lion. I know how tough the competition is in the Sunshine State Conference,” said Bayram. “Many players I played against during my years at Saint Leo have made careers on the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour. To see the current team doing so well in such a competitive environment is really special, and I would not be surprised to see one of them playing on TV someday.”
Returning home to Connecticut in 2008, Bayram served as the assistant golf professional at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Kensington, CT. He further ascended the career ladder in 2011 when he became the head golf professional at Timberlin Golf Club, where he continues to share the game and his experience with others. Marc is a Class-A PGA member and has devoted his professional career to the PGA of America and the growth of the game of golf. He has been an active participant in PGA programs and was recognized as the 2012 Merchandiser of the Year and 2015 Youth Player Development Award winner in the CT section PGA.
Marc resides in Berlin, CT, with his wife, Kat, and children Shelby-Mae, Marc, and Max.
“I am very fortunate to have a career that I enjoy,” Bayram added. “Being able to support my family with a job doing something I love would not have been possible without my Saint Leo education and experiences as a student-athlete.”
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.”
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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.