SAINT LEO, Fla. – When the Saint Leo softball team stepped onto the field last fall, 25 girls who came from all different parts of the country never dreamed of the future that lay ahead.
With a 40-14 regular season record, the Lions softball team has notched award after award during the 2013 season, claiming Saint Leo's first-ever conference championship title since the Sunshine State Conference softball championship inception in 1981. In addition, three Lions were named to the All-SSC First Team, four were named to the All-SSC Second Team, and head coach John Conway was honored with conference's Coach of the Year award.
With more newcomers on the roster than returners, it seemed like the Lions team was starting fresh, and in many ways, they were.
"This year is 100% different from last year," says sophomore outfielder McKenzie Burns. "The team chemistry is unbelievable. We worked so hard during the fall and throughout the spring to get to this point."
The team has completely transformed in the span of a year; going from 22-32 in the 2012 season to collecting over forty regular-season wins just a year later. And what's more? The Lions softball team has attributed their success to one thing and one thing only: their "family first" motto.
"We were successful because we bought into the process; we worked hard and we came together as a family," said junior-transfer Sarah Steiner. "We hit some bumps in the road but together we made it through."
Saint Leo's roster boasts just ten returners (most of whom are sophomores), as well as six junior-transfers, nine freshmen, and a new assistant coach, but at the end of the day, age and tenure matters not.
"This has to be the closest group of girls I've ever played with," says junior-transfer Brittany Ewing. "Deciding to transfer here was a decision I will never regret. I've loved the people I've met here and the chance to be on this team."
Every day is a new challenge for this group of girls, and they're excited to take on the new challenge that each day brings. Whether it's a practice session, a hard workout, or a game, this Lions team works hard and refuses to accept defeat.
"I couldn't ask for a better team to finish playing softball with," says senior pitcher Megan Still. "They never give up and I have never been a part of a team that fights like they do."
So what's in store for this Saint Leo softball team? Their post-season hopes become a reality tomorrow afternoon when they step on the field to take on the University of Tampa in the first round of the NCAA South Region Tournament.
"Hard work WILL pay off; believe me," says senior Rachelle Gremo. "I'm not done yet and neither is the rest of my team."
Need anybody say more?
For tournament brackets, click here.
To watch the NCAA South Regional games live, click here.