For the first time in its history, Saint Leo University was able to send not one, but four teams, to the National Spring Festival to compete for the National title. The Festival took place in Denver from May 16 to 21 and was hosted by the Metro State University and the Denver Sports Commission.
The first day of competition was a cold and rainy one, much to the surprise of the Saint Leo athletes, who are more used to warm and sunny weather. But despite foul weather, the Saint Leo athletes fought like Lions. “You just have to accept it. It’s the same temperature for every player and every team out there, so you grind. With these conditions, you just never know how the ball will react.” said junior Joey Savoie.
The women’s golf team seemed to get off to a rocky start under the tough conditions; after the first round the team placed tenth out of the twelve teams. But over the course of the next few days they managed to turn it around, climbing higher and higher in the ranks a little each day. Coach Baker was always close by to assist the players and give them advice. After four days the team was able to bring home a semi-finalist trophy, finishing 4th overall and placing three women in the top twenty of all individuals. Vilde Eriksen led the pack with a tie for ninth place, Marie Coors and Sabrina Rumbaugh tied for twentieth place, and Amanda Jakobsson and Margine Arguello added their own impressive results to the mix.
After topping an incredible season, the men’s tennis team went to the Championship with one goal in mind: to bring home a title. The team effortlessly bested Cameron University 5-0 and advance to the quarter finals and later, after defeating Northwest Missouri State, advanced to the semi-finals, where they met their greatest challenge. The Lion’s went head to head against the number two ranked Armstrong state, but emerged victorious; with a final score of 5-2, the team advanced to the title match against Hawaiian Pacific Uuniversity.
The Lions were able to take a 2-1 lead in the doubles before heading into the single matches. It was there that Hawaii Pacific showed their true strength and was able to catch up. After several close games, only Egor Panyushkin was able to win his single match. In the end the Lions fell short, losing 5-3 against the new national champion. Overall, it still remains a historical national championship for the men’s tennis team.
The women’s tennis team showed just as much talent as their male counterparts. After many matches, including a strong win against Southwest Baptist University in the quarter-final, the number two ranked Lions faced the number one ranked BYU- Hawaii, that was unbeaten in the 2016 season, in the semi-finals. The Lion’s put up a good fight, but in the end BYU remained undefeated.
However, the team in no way considers this a failure. Being a semifinalist for the second time in the last three years is added up to a successful end of the season. On top of that, Natalia Sidliska, Anastasia Wagner, and Isabella Robbiani received individual honors from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, and Pauline Helgesson was nominated for the NCAA woman of the year, an honor that no other Saint Leo athlete ever had.
After a historic season for both the men’s and women’s tennis program, head coach Chris Frusci has stepped down to pursue a new career opportunity at Baylor University. After leading the Saint Leo teams to a championship title at the Sunshine State Conference and some exceptional results at nationals, Frusci received the 2016 ITA Division II National Coach of the Year award.
“While disappointed he was with us just a few years, it is clear by the programs’ results he is a fantastic coach and recruiter. Baylor is getting a talented and dedicated coach. Saint Leo will now go about finding the next great coach to lead our programs and keep them in the national spotlight,” said Athletic director Francis Reidy.
The First National Championship Title Ever
The Saint Leo University Men’s Golf team has rewritten school history in many ways. In the men’s National Championship Tournament the top sixteen teams and the top individuals in the country start out playing three full rounds to crown the individual champions, while the best eight teams qualify to continue in the medal matches.
Coach Chris Greenwood picked Hugo Bernard, Ryan Gendron, Griffin Clark, Joey Savoie and Liam Ainsworth to represent the Saint Leo Lions. Being ranked second in the country encouraged Lions to better the semifinal result from the previous year, where they fell short against Lynn University.
Thanks to the overwhelming desire to succeed, not even the rainy weather could extinguish the internal fire that had been lit within each member of the team. The Lions started off with an incredible first round, putting them quickly into first place. Hugo Bernard took the individual lead over the field.
After a successful start, the five representatives confidently went into the second round where they maintained their first place position while also extending their lead eleven points past the second place team, Chico State. Hugo Bernard maintained the first place, while Joey Savoie moved up to second.
“This golf course can be played a lot of different ways, and we’re playing it aggressively. It fits the way we play golf because there’s a lot of risk and reward. It looks good to all our eyes, to be honest with you – even me as the coach,” said Coach Greenwood after the second round.
By the third round, fatigue had begun to set in; that and the rising wind speed made for quite a challenge. After shooting 66 and 65 (-13 under), Hugo Bernard shot a 72 on the last individual round. Thanks to his unwavering lead, Bernard was crowned the first ever National Champion from Saint Leo University. With Liam Ainsworth’s tie for eighth place and Joey Savoie in eleventh, the Lions advanced to the medal match as number one.
“I’m proud of the guys – they played well, anytime you can shoot those numbers you are obviously doing a lot of things right. We will enjoy the fact that we did this the last three days; the next two days though we gotta go back out and do it again. And we will be back up early in the morning tomorrow and hopefully just keep it going.” said Greenwood.
During the medal match, the best eight teams face off in order to advance to the next round. In the first round, number one seed Saint Leo had to face off against the number eight seed, Wilmington University. Saint Leo dominated the match against Wilmington by winning three games, losing zero, and resulting in a tie twice. In the semifinal round they had to face their old foe, Lynn University, who won the National Championship in 2015.
Out of this rivalry, a nerve-racking face off took place. While Savoie and Bernard won their matches, Griffin Clark and Ryan Gendron fell short to the Lynn players. In the end, it came down to Gendron; Ryan was able to get a tie against Lynn’s Andres Miranda. With two wins, two losses, and one tie, a tiebreaker ultimately declared the Saint Leo Lions the victors.
On the final day of the Festival, Saint Leo faced Chico State University to crown the new National champion. While Ainsworth and Savoie came up short against the Chico State players, Gendron and Bernard scored big for Saint Leo. Once again it all came down to the final players, Griffin Clark for Saint Leo and Kelley Sullivan from Chico State. Clark played proficiently through to the last hole where he claimed the winning point that lead the men’s golf team to victory, making them the first golf team from in Saint Leo to win the National Championship.
The men’s head coach Chris Greenwood was also a big winner. Greenwood earned the Dave Williams DII National Coach of the Year award after this promising season, which marked his third year as the Saint Leo head coach.
Outdoor Track National Championship
This past season, only one outdoor track athlete went on to represent Saint Leo. The National Championship meet took place in Bradenton, Florida at the end of May. Colett Rampf qualified for the 3000m steeplechase with the third fastest time in Division II. Two Saint Leo men, Rafal Matuszscak and Valenting Lenz, hit the NCAA B Provisional, but did not quite make the cut off that would allow them entrance into the National meet. Colett, who had already earned an All-American award in the Cross Country season, failed to be beaten by any Division II athlete during the entire spring season.
After advancing to the finals, Collet ran a fabulous race and only had to let go four other athletes on the final laps. The fifth spot earned Colett her first Outdoor Track All-American honor, as well as an Academic All-American for outstanding academic and athletic achievements.
Learfield Directors’ Cup Final Standings
In addition to having major success with its athletic program, Saint Leo University ranked second place among all 307 Division II schools in the Country. The final score is the result out of the final standings and national rankings from all sports combined. Only Grand Valley State University managed to earn more points in all sports combined to take their second straight win in the Learfield Directors’ Cup.
“This is an incredible moment for Saint Leo Athletics. The class that entered Saint Leo in August 2012 arrived when we had broken the top 100 in the Directors’ Cup standings for just the second time in program history. That class graduated this past May as part of the second-best overall athletics program in all of Division II. Those student-athletes believed in our goals and mission, as did our coaches and staff and university administration, and together they made today’s achievement possible,” said Francis X. Reidy, Saint Leo’s director of athletics.
The spring athletic season has been a most memorable one. There is no doubt that the young athletes of Saint Leo, as well as the rest of its students, will continue to make history in the years to come.