By Jeff Batt and Wesley Wilcox| firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a new school year, a new beginning, but most importantly a new season for Flagler Saints sports. As always there is much anticipation to see how each team is going to perform and which players will standout from the rest of the pack. There is men’s and women’s soccer looking for a fresh start, volleyball bringing back a lot of star talent, and finally men’s and women’s golf looking to continue their glorious success.
Fall is the best time for golf and luckily we have Men’s and Women’s Golf to look forward. Both coming off very impressive seasons after they finished their competitive seasons ranked in the top 10. These are two teams to look forward to this season as the men have five returning seniors and a strong supporting cast from returning junior Zach Horne, who feels positive about the season ahead.
“We are trying to go further than we did last year,” he said. “We won conference, but we all played at regionals and no one left this past year. We have everyone returning, plus two new kids and one of them is playing this week. I think that the experience level helps in ways unknown. Just being out there and knowing how to fight for it, experience is everything.”
The men begin their season in South Carolina next Monday where they head to the always difficult Kiawah Island Golf Club to take part in the Kiawah Island Invitational. They are going in with confidence to a place they know well and a tournament they tied for 1st just last year.
The women’s team has two returning seniors and five new freshman coming into help lead the Saints to victory. One of those returning seniors is Stephanie Tucker who lead the team in scoring average last season at 75.96. Tucker realizes their have been changes to the team, but she has a positive outlook on it.
“We have a whole new team chemistry this year with five freshman, but there is so much passion, dedication and eagerness to play that I know we will have a very successful season,” she said.
The women will take that motivation to the Old South Golf Club in Hilton Head, S.C., where they will take on Lander on Sept. 26. That will be the first step for them to repeat their success from last year and continue their goal for the Conference and National Championships.
The anticipation is also high for women’s soccer, which has 6 returning seniors coming back and a plethora of young talent coming to help this year. The team is coming off a poor season, but senior star-player Cassie Fernandez says that is all in the past.
“As a senior my goal is to lead the team to the conference championship, but I believe we can make it further,” she said. “We have a lot of potential this year to set the standard high. Evans, Georgia, where the conference finals are played is our motivation. We have to fight through every battle and give everything we got.”
Fernandez also believes the coaching is really giving them that extra push for competition.
“(Strength and Conditioning Coach) Steve Fell has a huge impact on our team,” she said. “He is there supporting and coaching us with such great attitude. I believe that a combination of Steve’s work and Coach (Ashley Martin’s) has physically and mentally prepared us for this season. We focus on every detail, small or big.”
Senior defender Jess Fassnidge, who will be one of the main contributors to this year’s success, says there is a different mind-set in the locker room this season.
“I speak on behalf of all seniors from last years side that we are more focused on working hard,” she said. “This season has started well for us and we can only continue to improve. With all the passion that this years Flagler women’s team holds, it will take a lot to stop us.”
The 2014 Flagler College Volleyball team has lost its share of seniors, but they enter this 2015 season with high expectations behind veteran leaders Caitlyn Kovach and Ashley Lechleidner-Rodriguez. After only managing to reach 16-16 (8-10 PBC) last year, this team looks to capitalize on its strong depth under Coach Matt Affolder, who enters his second season at the helm of the program. After managing to reach the Peach Belt Conference Championship Match last year, this program looks to gain from its experience of reaching the title match with such a young roster. The program sees the return of strong play from two underclassmen that found their roles last year in Sara Davis and Taja Valmyr.
While this team has incoming freshmen who would be considered inexperienced, Tara Savisky and Shea Hamilton come into Coach Affolder’s program looking to make an immediate impact. Hamilton was something of a rock star in the Tampa Bay area reaching three consecutive A Final Fours, winning the Florida State Title in 2014, and made the All Tampa Bay 1st Team. In her 2014 senior season, Hamilton accumulated 344 kills and 323 digs. Savisky also joins the Saints with a heavy background in winning. Savisky prior to Flagler College made the Pennsylvania State Final Four in 2011, and was also voted a two time Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All State Selection.
While there is an influx of new players, Coach Affolder also has his experienced players in seniors Caitlyn Kovach, Ashley Lechleidner-Rodriguez, Amelia Morgan and Jailene Torres-Lopez who all come into this 2015 season looking to go out in fashion as seniors. Kovach comes in as a defensive specialist for the Saints who accumulated 390 digs last season. Her presence will be felt throughout the season if the Saints have a chance at postseason play. Morgan enters this season as a big part of their postseason chances after last season having 1,153 assist, eight aces, and seven double-doubles. Lechleidner-Rodriguez comes in as a complimentary defensive piece to Kovach, as she tallied up 375 digs last season. Along with being a key piece to the squad, Rodriguez is feeling confident about the season ahead.
“This will be our best season yet, she said. “I feel it.”
As for the players whose presences will be felt look no further than Sara Davis and Megan Hooks whose height and ability to be mobile will help carry the Saints to success. Davis comes in as the Saints player to always keep an eye out for when it comes to big-time matches.
After coming in to her freshman year last season, Davis accumulated 329 kills, 107 blocks, and a team-high 38 aces. As for Hooks, look for her to be the second twin tower along side Davis. Last season Hooks put together 172 kills, 143 digs, 51 blocks, and 17 aces.
Losing seniors is never an easy task on a team expected to be among some of the Peach Belt Conferences’ Elite volleyball programs, but this 2015 Saints team comes into this season with high expectations.
With the additions of Savisky and Shea Hamilton, this rotation becomes something to be feared in the Peach Belt as these Saints look to bounce back from their loss in the Conference Title match, and finally hoist the trophy as Peach Belt Conference Champions. And it won’t stop there if this team can stay healthy and injury prone all season the sky just might be the limit for this second season under Matt Affolder and the Saints program.
The story coming out of the 2014 campaign for Flagler College Men’s Soccer was injuries. After knocking off a third-ranked Rollins College and putting the nation on notice, the Saints fell victim to the injury bug last year as some of the Saints top players suffered season ending injuries and lingering injuries that plagued players all season long.
Entering the 2015 season, Head Coach John Lynch looks to rally the “Red Army” under the leadership of Saints veteran players Caleb Austin and Marco Warren. With a highly regarded 2014 recruiting class and senior leadership, the Saints look to get back to prominence among the Peach Belt Conferences elite teams.
Team Captain Austin heads into his final season in the program and believes this season may be a defining one for the program,
“All our defenders are back,” he said. “Offensively we should be better than last year. Our new recruits should make us deeper than last year.”
Flagler College Senior Midfielder and Preseason All PBC Team selection Marco Warren also believes his final season could very well be his best.
“I think we have competition for the conference title and can make NCAA Regionals,” he said. “We have seniors and good freshman that have come in. We’re very deep.”
This season looks to be one filled with excitement and fireworks as Lynch’s program looks to capitalize on their spring exhibition match at EverBank Field against Division I Jacksonville Dolphins, which resulted in a 1-1 draw. If this Saints club can stay healthy and manage to click with the new additions from the off-season look for Coach Lynch’s team to get back to their high level of play, and once again return to where they belong among the Peach Belt Conference’s and nations elite soccer programs. The “Red Army” continue there season this Saturday for their home opener against Francis Marion University, which opens a 4 game home stand.