Saint Leo University has waited a long time for this kind of success.

After 30 years of competing in the Sunshine State Conference, the mens soccer team captured the schools first league championship in any sport as the Lions finished on top of the conference standings this season. An automatic berth to the Division II Championship came along with the SSC title, marking the first time the mens soccer program has advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

Saint Leo's Asmir Pervan. (Saint Leo)
Head coach Joel Harrison, who coached Central Arkansas to the 2002 Division II championship game, believes that some of the groups accomplishments are due to changing the programs culture and attitudes after he took over a team that posted a losing record in 2003.

We had two good recruiting classes, which helped, but there was definitely a good base of players here, said Harrison. They thought they were working hard, but we had to show them that to get to the next level, you have got to step it up. As a team, we went back and looked at the programs history and looked at the record, and it had been average.

The No. 2 Lions (15-1-0) added to their history-making by posting a school record for victories during the regular season, breaking the previous mark of 14 by the 1996 team. They enter the NCAA Tournament on a 10-game winning streak, which includes 2-1 double overtime victory over then-No. 1 Lynn University on Oct. 22, putting an end to the Fighting Knights perfect season.

Well-balanced on both sides of the field, Saint Leo ranks in the top 10 in the nation in scoring offense (3.06 goals per game) and goals against average (0.62) despite playing against tough competition in the SSC.

Its a group that is pretty level-headed and understands that theyre much better collectively than they are individually, said Harrison. Theyre a pretty tight-knit group and hang out and do a lot of things together. They really understand the team concept and work hard for each other.

The Lions are not without star power and boast the nations leading scorer in junior forward Asmir Pervan. After rehabilitating from ankle surgery before the 2005 season, Pervan is averaging 3.19 points per game with a team-leading 22 goals and seven assists.

Asmir is the type of kid that when his confidence is high, when hes scoring goals, hes very comfortable with the ball and feels like he can take on the world, said Harrison.

Harrison also credits freshman forward Eusebio Montoya for contributing to Pervans scoring success.

(Montoya) plays up front with him and they make a good combination, said Harrison. They bring opposite things to the table, which helps them play together very well.

Although Harrison is only in his second season at Saint Leo, he knows the strides the program has made over the last few years to get to this point, and recognizes the leadership of school president, Dr. Arthur F. Kirk, and athletics director Fran Reidy.

Those guys have worked really hard to get the school on the right track academically and athletically, said Harrison. The school has really turned around in the last five or six years with Dr. Kirk leading the way. I competed against St. Leo when I was at another university, and when we first came here, I wasnt that impressed.

Saint Leo is the top seed in the Division II South Region tournament and will host No. 9 Lynn and No. 17 Central Arkansas on Nov. 11. The Lions will play the winner of that game on Nov. 13. The South Region champion will host the Southeast Region winner in the NCAA quarterfinals on Nov. 20.