WINTER PARK, Fla. – Champions!
Give it a moment to sink in, and then say the line again, "The Saint Leo University women’s soccer team is the Sunshine State Conference Tournament Champions."
That’s right, your Lions are the conference tournament champs after a nail-biting shootout triumph in the championship game where they posted their second-straight upset win, this time coming against No. 2 seed Florida Southern. The Lions drew 1-1 with the Moccasins in regular time before defeating them in penalties, 3-2.
The shootout was another one of Lions’ goalkeeper Lauren Hudson’s finest moments for Saint Leo as she pegged the direction of every one of the Moc penalties, only seeing two get through her grasp. Hudson stuffed two penalties and watched the deciding shot bounce off the crossbar to her right to start the Lions’ wild celebration in the middle of the field.
Getting the match into extras was nearly a miracle in itself as the Lions (15-4-2) scored the equalizer in the 83rd minute. A Courtney Kassab free kick from 40 yards out was first deflected by Lizzie Seedhouse and then Pia Soesemann put an fantastic redirection on the ball to cross it across the face of goal and catch the Florida Southern keeper wrong-footed to knot the game.
It was Florida Southern (14-4-1) who struck first in the 28th minute as Liz Gorman got things going for the Moccasins by serving a corner kick into the box, where Christina Crooks headed it forward toward the goal. The header was a strong one and might have resulted in a goal anyway, but Princess Haley made sure it counted by redirecting the ball into the net.
That goal forced Head Coach Ged O’Connor to change his game plan, and as the clock ticked down he pushed every player on the field, save Hudson, into the Lions’ attacking third where they eventually struck gold with the Kassab, Seedhouse, Soesemann connection.
The Lions mounted this entire comeback without their most prolific scorer as conference player of the year Hannah Beard was knocked out of the game in the 56th minute. Not swayed by that setback, the Lions regrouped to eventually tie the game.
Officially, the Lions earned two draws in the semifinal and final rounds as they finished regular time tied with Rollins and Florida Southern, but SLU’s domination in the shootouts, where Hudson combined to stop four of the eight point-blank shots she faced. As a reward for her performance, she took home the Most Outstanding Player award of the entire tournament.
Hudson even made her penalty attempt, her first in three tries in 2008.
She is joined on the All-Tournament team by Seedhouse, Beard, and Chrissy Darwell.
This is potentially not the last time the Lions will face Florida Southern, Rollins or even the University of Tampa. By virtue of winning the tournament championship, the Lions earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament but the nomination of the other three schools is virtually assured.
The Lions now take their tournament trophy back to Saint Leo where Director of Athletics Fran Reidy will gladly find a prominent spot to display it in the trophy case. This marks only the second conference championship Saint Leo has claimed; the other being the men’s soccer regular season title in 2005.