ST. LEO (FOX 13) - This Saturday, two Bay Area college lacrosse teams will square off against each other in the NCAA Division II Elite 8. The University Tampa is a perennial tournament contender. The other is a newbie to post season play.
St. Leo University is making its first appearance as a Cinderella team after earning the right to host Round 1 of the NCAA Division II Southern Regional.
The Lions are Florida's original college lacrosse team, established in 2006. They may be the first college program to take its shots in the Sunshine State, but it's taken head coach Brad Jorgensen time to build his program to an NCAA contender. The Lions have arrived this season going 14-2, earning the number-two seed in the South's four-team region.
"It's exciting,” said senior Jake Gilmour, who came from Canada to be a part of the Lions program. "We've been working toward the four years I've been here and the years before. Coach has done a great job with this program, building blocks every year, getting better and better. This year you know our dynamic has been [good]. Everyone has bought in here and we are excited to go."
The Tampa Spartans have been the model program against which teams measure themselves in Florida. St. Leo took down the University of Tampa 9-8 in April for just the second time in school history. They won with a buzzer-beating goal. It earned the Lions the right to host Tampa in the quarterfinals.
"Yeah, it's an awesome experience to be a team that's going to fight Tampa for something they've owned for the longest time, since the conference has been around,” said St. Leo junior and former Plant High Panther. "So I think it's a unique experience for me being from Tampa. Growing up and going to camps there and now I get to play against them. It's really fun for me."
Outside the program, St. Leo is considered the Cinderella story this season. They finished last in the Sunshine State Conference in 2017 at 1-4. So it's been a worst-to-first transition with essentially the same players finishing undefeated during the regular season in the conference at 7-0.
"It's really took that extra bit of commitment, that extra bit of perseverance out of these guys,” said St. Leo head coach Brad Jorgensen, who's been the Lions’ only coach. "When they very could have easily said, ‘that's just what we are.’ They refused to accept that. They really spent a lot of time this year trying to figure out a way to turn those one-goal losses into one-goal wins."
The Lions and Spartans play Saturday at 1p.m. at St. Leo.