SAINT LEO – It was, according to Saint Leo women’s soccer coach Ged O’Connor, the toughest preseason he has been through since joining the Lions as an assistant in 2002.
After having their opening game against Webber International postponed midway through, to having a pair of games postponed due to a number of players contracting H1N1 virus, it has been an understandably challenging time for the Lions.
At its worst, the squad was reduced to only 10 players, including both goalkeepers, attending practice. That meant all O’Connor could do was work on fitness, and keeping players skills sharp.
“We were trying to keep fit, get them touches on the ball,” O’Connor said. “But the problem was while those players were getting fit, the players that were out for five days lost their fitness, and they’ve got to come back again.”
Senior sweeper Ana Davila said with the anticipation of the new season, the nature of the start to the season was frustrating for everyone in the program.
“We saw it as we had a very solid team coming in this year,” Davila said. “To have so many things, one thing after another, three people would be sick here, and then another two people, and another two people, it was really frustrating to have all these games cancelled and things moved around.”
With a squad of 14, including two goalkeepers, the Lions finally got on the field against No.19 Armstrong Atlantic, and earned a 1-1 tie on September 10th. O’Conner said he thought the player’s performance in what had become their regular season opener was phenomenal.
“No-one was anywhere near match-fit,” O’Connor said. “I knew going into it we had to get a couple of goals early … We went up, and then in the second half we needed to slow it down, draw it off a bit, but then they scored with seven minutes left.
“Then, it was gut-check time. I needed to see what they had (in their hearts). And our girls fought, our girls fought right from front to the back. I was very, very proud of their performance.”
“It was a struggle, but everyone pushed through it,” Davila said. “We’re trying to get back into the groove of playing.”
The Lions have posted a pair of wins since then, 3-2 against Robert Morris and 6-0 against Eckerd in their Sunshine State Conference opener. The preseason pick to win the conference, they retake the field on Wednesday against Rollins, who are thought to be the Lions closest rivals for the SSC title. According to forward and returning SSC Player of the Year Hannah Beard, the setbacks the team has suffered haven’t deterred them from their goal for the season.
“I expect to win the conference, and the conference tournament again, and to get further than we’ve gone in regionals,” Beard said. “Being a senior, this is the best team we’ve had.”