SAINT LEO — Keith Fulk said the most important thing he wanted to bring to the Saint Leo men’s soccer team was an expectation to win at the highest level.
Now, three years later, the Lions finished the season 13-2-1 — the second-most wins for a season in program history — while claiming their first Sunshine State Conference (SSC) championship in eight years.
“Everyone worked extremely hard to make this happen,” said Fulk, who was named the SSC Coach of the Year. “We were trying to change a culture — a culture where being mediocre was OK. We had to raise those standards. We upset some people with the changes we made, but in the end, we had to ruffle some feathers to change the program’s mindset. Now, there is a confidence that we can compete with anyone.”
Fulk said an early-season tournament in Pensacola showed his squad what it could do.
“We won both our games on that trip against some really good competition,” Fulk said. “We bonded as a team and grew from there.”
Fulk gave a lot of credit to senior midfielder Edgar Herrera for helping the turnaround from going 7-8-1 in 2012.
“We challenged him to become better technically and to become stronger and fitter, but we also challenged him psychologically to become a better leader too,” Fulk said. “He was resistant at first, but in the end he saw the light of what we were trying to do.”
Herrera finished with three goals and eight assists to earn SSC first-team honors with teammates Chris Lavie, a senior defender, Manuel Schoenhuber, a sophomore goalkeeper, and freshman forward Maximilian Schulze-Geisthovel.
Schulze-Geisthovel led the Lions with 11 goals, despite adjusting to life in a new country.
“We wanted to bring in a goal scorer, and that’s exactly what he is,” Fulk said of Schulze-Geisthovel. “He’s from Germany and he missed home a lot during the season, but he became a dynamic player for us. He’s relentless. … It took him some time, but he showed he will be a big part of our program for the next three years.”
Saint Leo went 7-0-1 in SSC play during the regular season and qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time since 2005 before falling 2-1 (4-2 PK) to West Florida in the second round.
“It was disappointing to lose, but we have so many freshmen and sophomores on the team, so we feel great about the future,” Fulk said. “We’ve had a taste of the NCAA tournament and a taste of a conference championship. Hopefully we learn from those experiences.”
Tribune correspondent Kyle LoJacono can be reached at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Kyle_LoJacono.