The magnitude of this week for the Flagler College athletic program goes beyond the men’s basketball team opening its season or the volleyball team trying to win a third straight conference tournament title.
Flagler’s Crimson & Gold Banquet featuring former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell will be Thursday night inside the Hotel Ponce de Leon’s elegant dining hall. Friday, the school will host its annual President’s Golf Classic at The King & Bear course at the World Golf Village.
“It’s huge. It’s the biggest 24 hours in fundraising to Flagler College athletics,” said Flagler athletic director Jud Damon. “Having Mark Brunell so closely tied to the Northeast Florida community will help us be successful with our fundraising.”
Damon said the two events will raise enough for the school to fund three full scholarships. In recent years, that has meant more than $100,000 was raised in the two-day period.
Brunell will serve as Thursday’s keynote speaker. Though he has roots in California, Northeast Florida has been his home for more than two decades.
“We loved the opportunity to be a part of a young organization in the Jaguars,” Brunell said. “We made some friends very quickly. They were teammates and their wives. We loved that Jacksonville had some very friendly people and were very welcoming to the Jaguars. It seemed like a great place to raise a family. We loved being at the beach and the weather. When we got toward the back end our time with the Jaguars we knew as soon as my career was over, I wanted to come back. We always had one foot in Jacksonville. We always had a house here. We never did leave and we never plan on leaving. This is home.”
Brunell has been involved in football in one capacity or another for most of his 47 years. The quarterback-turned-analyst is also the head coach at Episcopal.
“Athletics, more specifically football, was very good for me growing up,” Brunell said. “On the football field, I learned the importance of hard work, the importance of team. I learned what leadership was about. I learned how to overcome adversity. A lot of life lessons are learned on the football field, the basketball court and the athletic diamond.”
Flagler does not have a football team, but the Saints have been nationally ranked in baseball and women’s soccer and earned berths to NCAA Division II regional competition in cross country, volleyball, golf and tennis.
Brunell said it is a privilege to support athletics because of the numerous positive outcomes that they provides for young people, whether they are in grade school or college.
The 1990 Rose Bowl MVP graduated from the University of Washington in 1993 and spent nearly two decades on the sidelines of professional football teams, including the 2009 New Orleans Saints that won Super Bowl XLIV. He is one of the few quarterbacks who led his team to a national title and also won a Super Bowl ring in the last three decades. Brian Griese and Matt Flynn are the others, and Brunell was undoubtedly a better professional than both.
“The kind of person that Mark is, he is a great role model for our student-athletes,” Damon said. “How he conducted his life and who he is lines up with who we are.”
Flagler middle hitter Sara Davis and setter Tara Savisky both received Peach Belt Conference honors Monday.
Davis was named the Peach Belt Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time this season after leading the Saints with 19 kills and nine blocks in Sunday’s five-game win over Georgia College to clinch the conference regular season title. Davis showed why she is leading the Peach Belt with a .407 hitting percentage after having only three hitting errors in 80 attacks last week in victories over UNC Pembroke, Francis Marion and Georgia College.
Savisky was named the conference’s Specialist of the Week. The junior from western Pennsylvania is tied for the conference lead with 987 assists. Flagler shared the regular season Peach Belt title with USC Aiken last year. The Saints (22-3) have won 17 straight and claimed their first outright conference title since 2010.
The women’s soccer team’s season came to a close Sunday afternoon with a 3-0 loss to Columbus State in the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament.
The Saints (16-3-2) completed a season where they set records for wins, fewest losses, longest unbeaten streak and were nationally ranked for the first time. Charlene Nowotny’s game-winning goal in the 68th minute of Friday’s win over Limestone moved her into a tie for second in all of Division II with nine game-winning goals. Columbus State is the only team to beat Flagler this year. The Saints were 0-3 against the Cougars, but 16-0-2 against everybody else.
Flagler beat a handful of former St. Johns County athletes in its season-opening 101-48 win over Ave Maria on Saturday. While 13 of the 14 Saints played, the game marked the debut for freshmen Erianna Campbell and Alex Herbert as well as 6-foot-5 junior Tabitha Odabe, and fellow JUCO graduates Tatiyana Rock, Malaysia Robinson and Rayven Wade. Robinson led all players with an efficient 23 points in 27 minutes.
Ave Maria, with Creekside graduates Amanda Kasprzak (four points, three rebounds), Taylor Allen and Megan Allen, was held to 30.6 percent from the field.