Saint Leo, Fla. (August 28, 2008) - The Saint Leo University volleyball team recorded a record breaking 2007 season that surpassed many people’s expectations. It was memorable year in many ways but one that still fell short of their ultimate goals, a Sunshine State Conference Championship and an NCAA tournament victory.
With last season in the books, head coach Sam Cibrone and his 2008 Lions have set their goals and the team’s expectations to the highest degree possible. An SSC title and a strong showing in the NCAA tournament are what Cibrone and the Lions are aiming for. Saint Leo returns the majority of the starters from last year and received 49 votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Preseason Poll for the first time in program history. The votes saw the Lions two spots out of the top-25 in Division II volleyball.
“I am honored that we are receiving votes,” Cibrone said. “But we need to focus on each game and the poll will work itself out.”
After setting a school record in 2006 with 21 wins, the Lions topped that mark with 24 in 2007. At one point in the season Saint Leo was 24-8 before losing the final six matches of the season, including a five game loss to Florida Southern in the first postseason round. That poor finish is motivation for this year’s Lions as they look to see what they can accomplish when working together as one unit for an entire season.
The ladies began last season by sweeping all of their opponents at the Eckerd College Invitational, winning three out of four matches at the West Florida Tournament and headed into SSC play sweeping through the Bryant University Tournament, going 4-0. In the first month of the season, the Lions saw themselves jump out to a 14-3 overall record and Saint Leo led the conference through the first half of play. It was the second time around the conference that appeared to be the Achilles heel for the Lions.
To prepare for the upcoming year, Cibrone, with assistants Dan King and newcomer Jenn Corkum have spent the offseason teaching and demonstrating the value of mental toughness and team cohesiveness, especially during the rough stretches. They have aligned the focus of the entire team this season with one date: 12/06/08. December 6, 2008 is the date where the NCAA Division II Volleyball Championship will be put up for grabs and that is the same date where Cibrone wants his Lions to be preparing to make history.
“We are not focusing on simply making the NCAA tournament but on winning it,” Cibrone said. “It is time for us to take a leap forward.”
The most promising thing for Saint Leo is that they return all but one player to the 2008 squad including sophomore standouts Kim Nuckols, Kaitlin McKenna and Leah Perry, all of whom played a significant part as freshman in the Lions’ record breaking season. Joining them will be an extremely talented junior class led by Michelle Nogueras, Jenna Jordan and Chelsea Armer. SLU will also have the distinct advantage of bringing back six seniors, a group anchored by Emily Frey, Amanda Cook and Audrey Starkebaum as well as significant roles being filled by Brittany Fuhr, Jessi Lynn and Sara Ver Voort.
Joining the Lions this season will be three incoming freshman, including Corey Ryan, a setter from Dearborn, Mich., Jessica Bryant, an outside hitter from Land O’Lakes, Fla. and Danielle Bletso, a middle blocker from Boardman, Ohio. All three ladies demonstrated very high potential in high school and are expected to make an immediate impact for the versatile Lions’ squad.
Cibrone concluded his thoughts on his team as they head into a promising 2008 campaign with one final sentence, “Our team has more depth than any team I have ever coached, so I want us to meet our potential.”
The Lions will be tested early as they kick off their season at the Florida Southern/Tampa/Saint Leo Tournament in Tampa, Fla. Central Oklahoma will be the first on the Lions list en route to 12/06/08. The game is scheduled for Friday, August 30 at 11:00 a.m. at Tampa’s Bob Martinez Sports Center.