05/10/2019 6:30 AM
Team 91 alum Kayla Kosubinsky, right, leads Tampa into the NCAA Division II tournament.
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Kayla Kosubinsky was in high demand during her recruitment when she played for Team 91.
The Smithtown West alum went through the process with a handful of options, including some looks from Division I schools, but the more she looked at it, the more she found herself drawn to the opportunity to do something unique at Tampa.
"I was looking at D-I schools, but when I came to Tampa, I just loved the team right away, and I knew that I wanted to make a change in the program," Kosubinsky said. "I always wanted my class to be a part of making changes here and making history for the team."
Kosubinsky's not even done her sophomore year as a Spartan, but she can already check that "making history" box. She burned Florida Southern for a goal and four assists as Tampa won, 19-18 in overtime, to lift the Spartans to their first Sunshine State Conference championship two weeks ago. It was Tampa's first conference title in the program's six-year history, and it also cemented the team's first NCAA Division II berth. Tampa is the top seed in the South region and hosts Queens University of Charlotte at 11 this morning.
"It's something that I've looked forward to since I was a little kid, and it's really amazing being a part of this team," said Kosubinsky, who's put forth a balanced 19-goal. 15-assist season out of the midfield. "After we beat Rollins (in the semifinals), we knew we could beat Florida Southern, and we came out so strong. No matter how close the score was, we knew we weren't going to lose."
The win over Florida Southern marked a redemption moment for Tampa, which fell, 13-12 to the Mocs a season ago. Florida Southern then won the conference and made it all the way to the NCAA championship game, showing Kosubinsky and the Spartans how close they were to reaching that point. The loss, "lit a fire under us," Kosubinsky said, and a 16-14 win over the Mocs early this year proved to Tampa that it could hang with anyone. What might have been the more impressive obstacle to overcome, though, was upending Rollins.
The Tars unceremoniously handed the Spartans a convincing loss in the season opener with a 21-16 decision, then added an 18-10 triumph on April 10. Playing Rollins twice, though, played into the Spartans' hands when the two teams met back up in the conference semis.
"Those losses lit a fire under us, too, and we knew that it's hard to beat a team twice and even harder to beat them three times," Kosubinsky said. "We knew them so well and knew everything that we had to do. We had no nerves and we knew that we were going to beat them this time."
The Spartans will see a lot of familiar faces at this weekend's South regional on the Spartans' campus. If they can beat Queens - far from a guarantee in itself - they'll take on the winner of... Florida Southern and Rollins. Kosubinsky, who had 26 goals and 28 points a season ago as a freshman, saw the foundation for a special team being laid last year.
"Getting playing time at the end of the year definitely helped my confidence for this year," she said. "I came in knowing that I'd probably play this year, and I've never been nervous to step on the field with this team."
It's already been a history-making season for Tampa, but there's plenty of optimism that the Spartans can push things even further. It's a close-knit, experienced group, and those types of teams tend to do well in the postseason.
They tend to even make more history.