This season’s Sunshine State Conference tournament is providing a little more déjà vu for Ged O’ Connor and the Saint Leo women’s soccer team.
After entering the tournament as the No.4 seed, as the Lions did a season ago, they will now travel to Rollins College on Friday night for a semifinal against the No.1-seed Tars, a rematch of last season’s semifinal.
There’s also the fact that last season the Tars defeated the Lions in the regular season, only for the Lions to turn the tables in the tournament on their way to the title. Earlier this season, Rollins earned a 3-2 come-from-behind victory at Saint Leo’s University Field, which would lead one to believe that a repeat of last season’s semifinal could be in the cards.
All Saint Leo forward Hannah Beard knows, though, is that the Lions are eager to get another chance to face the Tars.
“I think we’re just really excited to get a chance to play Rollins again,” Beard said. “I felt like we weren’t at our best when we played them last time because of the swine flu and we hadn’t played. It’s a bit of excitement to see how we can play them when we’re at full strength.”
Saint Leo scored after 69 seconds against Nova Southeastern, Chrissy Darwell finding the back of the net for the Lions, and for the first 15 minutes completely dominated play. But after that, the game developed into the kind of game O’Connor is expecting to face for the rest of the postseason.
“From about the 25-minute mark through the rest of the game, even though we had more chances and everything, it was more of a war, it was more of a battle,” O’Connor said, “I think is the way the rest of our games are going to go, just because of the injuries we’ve got and so on and so on.”
O’Connor doesn’t mind that, because he believes that while his side has enough talent to beat anyone the Lions will face, he also believes that the team’s work-rate will keep them in any game they play.
“I’d rather not play well and fight for 90 minutes than play well with people who aren’t going to go out there and fight,” O’Connor said. “I think we’ve got players out there who will work their socks off every single minute of the game, and to me that’s very, very important.”
The Lions have reached the SSC tournament final each of the past three seasons, in addition to winning the title last year. That has become a source of pride for Beard and the rest of the senior class.
“Definitely,” Beard said. “I think we’ve gotten used to it in a sense, the past few years we’ve always gotten to the final, so it will be seen as a huge let-down if we don’t get there this year.”
As for the key to getting back to the final for a fourth straight season, O’Connor thinks the key to the game will be in midfield, where All-Conference first-teamer Rachel Jabukowski plays a key role for the Tars.
“For Friday, I think it’s all about the midfield,” O’Connor said. “As long as we’re strong down the middle, that’s important, but Friday night is going to be a much more challenging match because their best players are their two center mids, so it’s a case of us having to negate their players and I’m sure we’re going to do a good job of that.”