TAMPA - The University of Tampa closed out the 2003-04 season the same way it opened - competing for championships.
The Spartans fielded their usual strong squads in volleyball, women's cross country and baseball and had the added benefits of improved teams in softball and women's soccer.
At the top of the list was the volleyball team.
The Spartans went 31-4, shared the Sunshine State Conference crown and advanced to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight. UT did not repeat its final four performance of 2002, but the Spartans finished strong with 14 straight wins before the 3-1 loss to Cal State-San Bernardino in the NCAA quarterfinals.
UT seniors Gretchen Naruta and Ania Ruiz were named first-team All-Americans, first-team All-South Region and first-team All-Sunshine State Conference. Naruta, a 5-7 setter, is a two-time AVCA All-American and ranks ninth in Division II for assists per game with 13.59. She led the Spartans to a .330 team attack percentage, which topped all Division II teams. Naruta also contributed 1.78 digs and 0.25 aces per game.
Ruiz, a 5-11 outside hitter, is one of five to receive AVCA All-America honors all four years and just the 13th named first-team three times. She averaged 4.44 kills and added 2.73 digs and 0.65 blocks per game.
Other moments of the athletic season included:
Cross country runners Alison Macsas, Dee Dee Haefling and Elizabeth Bragg earned All-South Region status after outstanding seasons. The trio led UT to an eighth-place finish in the Division II championships, the first time a UT cross country team has placed nationally. Macsas, named the SSC Female Runner of the Year, finished eighth at the NCAA meet and earned All-America honors. Jarrett Slaven was named SSC Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year.
The men's basketball team struggled to a 16-13 record behind the play of transfer guard Mark Borders and seniors Achille Ngounou, James Mereus, Earnest Williams and Denis Orlov. Only Borders returns from that group, which saw the Spartans lose in the SSC tournament's first round.
The women's soccer squad posted a 16-6 record, the best in program history. The Spartans finished as SSC runners up but advanced to their first NCAA tournament. Freshman Malana Winskas was named SSC Defensive Player of the Year.
Golfer Brian Ward fired 77-73-76 at Doral Golf and Country Club to place seventh at the SSC tournament. Ward, who earned an invitation to the NCAA Championships, helped UT to a sixth-place finish.
After going 33-14, the softball squad ended the season in the NCAA South Region tournament. Freshman pitcher Devlin Dougherty had an outstanding campaign, posting a 20-10 record and combining with Becky Testin on a no-hitter in the South Region tournament.
Senior cross country runner Elias Gonzales was invited to the NCAA final after winning the conference individual championship and placing sixth in the South Region. Gonzales was named SSC Male Runner of the Year.
UT baseball ended the sports year in traditional fashion - playing in the NCAA South Region tournament region. The Spartans, who spent most of the season in the NCAA Division II poll's top 10, including a week at No. 1, won 41 games and placed second in the conference. UT had one of its strongest teams in recent history but went up against an even stronger Rollins team, falling in the South Region tournament againstits SSC rival. Still, the Spartans placed nine players on the SSC All-Conference Team and return key players for next season.