Flagler College begins its 2019-20 academic season on Saturday with the Flagler Saints Volleyball Invitational

If Jud Damon had his way, Peach Belt Conference Commissioner David Brunk would present him with trophies for both Flagler College’s sportsmanship and successes.

While sportsmanship has been a staple within the program since Damon was named athletic director a decade ago, the Saints volleyball, soccer and cross country programs will begin their quest for the latter this weekend as they begin the 2019 season.

VOLLEYBALL

Flagler will begin its season on Saturday in the Flagler Saints Volleyball Invitational. The tournament was postponed 24 hours due to concerns from Hurricane Dorian.

Now that the sun is once again shining on St. Augustine, Flagler volleyball coach Matt Affolder can focus on Newberry, Shorter, Southern Wesleyan and Rollins. When Flagler does take the court, the Saints will be unveiling a new offense that will not incorporate the middle hitters as much as previous years.

“This is the best depth we have had in three of the four positions on the floor,” Affolder said. “The all-around ability of the team and our pin hitters is exciting. We’re going to change our style. We’re going to play a faster, more flowing style of play.”

Junior outside hitter Karlie Redfern was selected to the preseason All-Peach Belt team after leading the Saints with 365 kills in 2018. Other hitters who may provide some punch to Flagler’s attack are Rachel Machovec, Morgan Hall, Victoria Bowrosen, junior right side hitter Lindsay Gylnn and sophomore Rebekah Machovec.

Rebekah Machovec is one of four newcomers. She transferred from Eckerd and will play with her twin sister.

“This is a deep and all-around skilled team,” Affolder said. “It’s going to provide a lot of competition to see who will be out there.”

WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY

Flagler’s women’s cross country team, the reigning Peach Belt Conference champion, returns four runners who helped the Saints advance to the NCAA Division II championships last fall.

“I don’t think we’ll be as good Day 1, because we lose that presence up front,” said Flagler cross country coach Brian Beil. “But, we might grow into being a better team by the end of the year.

“Even though we will lose the presence up front with (2018 Peach Belt Runner of the Year) Heloise (Duffie De Tassigny), (Lauren Penkala) and Stephany (Sislava), we have a lot of quality depth that we’ve never had before. We’ll win in a different way…We’ll have six girls within 10 seconds of each other.”

Malia Cryan, Jessie Mescal, Kayla McManama and Allison Horwitch helped the Saints finish 31st at the national meet, while sophomore Lindsey Williams served as an alternate. That quintet will be challenged by freshman Lucie Kammer and three other freshmen.

Last month, the Saints were picked second in the Peach Belt Conference preseason poll and were ranked second in the Southeast Region by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY

Beil also has a handful of returnees for his men’s team that advanced to the Division II Southeast Regional last year. Fleming Island graduate Evan Fuller, Justin Greene and 6-foot-3-inch Connor Norton are all sophomores.

“You’re Bambi out of the womb when you’re a freshman,” Beil said. “Sophomore year, you know what to expect from the program. You usually see the biggest jump from freshman to sophomore (year). There all three had great summers. All three look really strong, so I’m expecting big things from those three.”

The Saints also have three seniors on their roster, but only Hunter Ingle is healthy at the start of the season.

There are seven newcomers this fall. Junior college transfer Marcus Graham was 22nd at the NJCAA National Championship for Indian Hills Community College. Meanwhile, the freshmen class may be led by Middleburg resident Joel Nesi as well as Asad Bashir, an under-the-radar prospect, who was a high school teammate of Flagler indoor track and field runner Aseli Adum.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

When it comes to winning trophies, the Saints women’s soccer team has not hidden its ambition. Flagler has advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament in each of the last two years — and won a match once they have qualified. Now, the Saints want to claim their first Peach Belt Conference title. The regular season or tournament title would suffice.

The Saints return the spine of the team in junior goalie Sarah-Lisa Duebel, All-Peach Belt defender, and St. Joseph graduate, Shannon Matthaei, holding midfielder Chloe Byrne and forward Sara Sandberg. Fullback Hannah Dolores as well as two-time All-Peach Belt winger Charlene Nowotny also return.

“I’m not sure if it’s the spine that's the most important thing,” said Flagler College women’s soccer coach Ashley Martin. “We have a lot of players who are determined to pick up the first trophy in our NCAA history. We have a really good balance of returnees.”

Seven starters from the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional second round match return. Sandberg, who either scored or assisted a goal in every 68.2 minutes she played in 2018, was a preseason All-Peach Belt selection. Nowotny, a 2017 All-American who scored seven goals and assisted nine others as a winger, will be a senior captain for the Saints.

Flagler was picked to finish second in the Peach Belt this year. It’s a ranking that is indicative of how far the program has come in Martin’s six years on the touchline but also of the final hurdle that must be scaled if the Saints want to win trophies.

Columbus State has won five straight regular season titles and captured the Peach Belt Conference Tournament title in four of the last five years. The Cougars have won all 13 meetings against Flagler, including a 4-0 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“This was our best spring that we’ve ever had,” Martin said. “We’ve been able to implement our style of play. This spring, we came an awful long way as a team in general.”

MEN’S SOCCER

The Saints will be incorporating a handful of new players into a program that was 5-10-1 last fall and only scored 18 goals. Leading scorers Tyggvi Magnussun and Henrique Salomao return for the Saints this fall, but there will be plenty of playing time available.

Of the seven Saints who played more than 100 minutes last year, five will not return. Salomao, who finished with four goals in 1,024 minutes as a defender last year, returns as does sophomore midfielder Dan McGuire.

“It’s going to be a good group of guys we have,” said second-year coach Chris Kranjc. “It’s a brand new group. We have 18 new guys coming in, with 10 returners. We’re pretty happy with the guys who are coming in. We’ll see how they perform in a very tough conference. With the non-conference schedule we have, it's so competitive. We will see how quickly they jell together in a short amount of time.”

Despite never finishing outside of the top five in the Peach Belt, Flagler was picked to finish sixth in the Peach Belt Conference this year.

“We want to be an attacking based team, defensively play a high block,” Kranjc said of his team’s 4-3-3 system. “That’s an attacking type of idea. That’s how we want to play. We want to get to goal as quickly as possible but in a way (works) with the players that we have.”

Flagler will have a month to prepare for its conference schedule this fall. The season begins on the road against a pair of Sunshine State Conference opponents. The Saints will face Eckerd at 5 p.m. Sunday and travel to the University of Tampa at 7 p.m. Sept. 12.