Then, the No.4-seeded Lions made a remarkable run to the Sunshine State Conference tournament championship.
Now, the No.4-seeded Lions are looking to do the same thing, beginning when they face No.5 seed Nova Southeastern at University Field on Tuesday night. It’s a task that Coach Ged O’Connor and his side are looking forward to.
“This is the fun time of the year, because you know every game you’re going to play is going to be a tough one,” O’Connor said.
In the past three seasons, the Lions have risen to that challenge. Including last year’s title, they have been to the SSC tournament final in each of the past three seasons. Before last season, the Lions had been the No.2 seed twice, earning a bye in the first round and advancing automatically into the semifinals. O’Connor, though, is happy to have an extra game at home.
“In a way, I’d rather finish third or fourth than finish second in the conference,” O’Connor said. “Both Rollins and Florida Tech have got over a week off, because we had to have last weekend free. That’s a long time without playing. It’s hard to stay match-fit.”
Saint Leo won 3-1 on the road when the two teams played in the penultimate game of the Lions regular season. Hannah Beard scored twice in that contest, and O’Connor said he will need Beard and center back Francesca Williams to be at their best if they Lions are to move on to face Rollins on Friday.
A bigger key, though, may be for the Lions to erase the defensive mistakes that have allowed opponents easy scoring opportunities, a trait that has bedeviled the Lions so far this season.
“If we continue to allow mistakes, it’s going to cost us,” O’Connor said. “We’ve got good enough players going forward between Pia (Soesemann), Chrissy (Darwell), Hannah and (Sara) Macko, we’ve got some damn, damn good players going forward, but I don’t know how many goals we’ve given up this year, but I’d be surprised if more than 20 percent were because of great play by the other team.”
If the Lions can fix that, though, O’Connor sees no reason why his side can’t win a second straight title.
“I think there’s a little bit of confidence, especially because they know what happened last year,” O’Connor said. “I’m not scared of any of those teams.”