Morning Jac: Saint Leo Eyeing Conference Title
The importance of conferences in Division II is different than in the other two tiers. Leagues are still relevant because they provide built-in games and postseason awards, but unlike Divisions I & II, there is no access to the NCAA tournament. There are no automatic qualifiers even when there is a conference tournament.
That doesn't mean league games or league titles are taken lightly, especially for the newly minted Sunshine State Conference.
"Conference championships, in this conference in particular, mean a lot," said Saint Leo's head coach Brad Jorgensen. "They mean a lot to the players, they mean a lot to the coaches and to the administrators and college presidents. Conference play is a big deal and I think as young as the conference is, the guys understand just how important the conference is."
Saint Leo, along with the other members of the SSC, have been in a conference before (except for Lynn, which is in its first year). They participated in the Deep South Conference for years, but that league was a non-traditional one, created specifically for lacrosse. Now that the six teams are playing for the same hardware as the soccer, basketball and baseball teams, the meaningfulness of a championship transcends the sport.
And Saint Leo wants it.
It's for bragging rights, but the SSC title-owner is also going to have a good-looking resume for Selection Sunday.
"Whoever wins our conference is going to have a darn good argument," said Jorgensen about NCAA aspirations. "There are great teams at the top and darn good teams at the bottom. That's one of the biggest surprises in our conference. The basement has really improved and there is not an easy game in the conference. Obviously non-conference play is going to factor in, but when you look around the conference and see what teams have been doing against out-of-conference opponents, it's pretty clear that it's a good lacrosse conference."
The Lions begin their quest for the title this evening when they travel to SSC rival Florida Tech for a 7 p.m. contest.
Saint Leo totes a 4-2 mark into the tilt with losses to Limestone and Wheeling Jesuit, but the Lions' strength up the middle makes them a handful for any team. Senior Matt Obermeyer, who was named the Deep South Conference co-player of the year in '13, leads the attack with 11 goals and four assists, while sophomore FOGO Will Cothron is currently running at 78.2 percent (68-for-87) at the dot, which is tops in the nation.
And then there's sophomore goalie Dave Moore, who has posted a 6.84 goals against average along with a 62.6 save percentage. Jorgensen believes he's as good as they get in the second division.
"Technically he's great, but the difference-maker in him is he'll make three or four goals a game in tight. Saves he just shouldn't make," Jorgensen said. "Whether it's in transition or man-down, he's got a knack for making every save he should and then two or three that he shouldn't. Really, the most impressive thing about him is he's got the NFL cornerback short memory. When one does get by him, he doesn't get phased or frazzled. He's an unbelievably even-keeled kid."
Despite Florida Tech's 1-4 record so far, Saint Leo will not be looking past the Panthers. Tech stung Leo in the season-opener last year, 16-15. That was a year ago, however. This is a different Lions team than the one that finished by losing four of five.
"We were giving up a lot more goals and scoring more goals, and we've kind of gone in a different direction," Jorgensen said. "It's kind of hard to draw too many parallels between last year and what's going to happen this year. Schedule matters, as well. We have another dangerous run down the stretch where we go Tampa, Florida Southern and Pfeiffer right in a row. We certainly have our work cut out for us and we have to make sure we don't fade."
And a Sunshine State Conference title would do nicely, as well.