The University of Tampa volleyball team will be without its best outside hitter for the remainder of the season.
Senior Stephanie Rivera, the Spartans' top returning offensive player, left the team last week to return home to Puerto Rico, citing a family emergency.
Rivera was fourth on the team last year in kills with 297 and was second in aces (42). She led the team this season in both categories and was named the Sunshine State Conference's top player the first week of the season. She led the Spartans to a 2-1 record in the University of North Florida's Pre-Labor Day Classic that week, averaging 4.6 kills per game and a .360 attack percentage.
On a team already bereft of experience, Rivera's departure forces coach Chris Catanach to look toward underclassmen.
"I've been forced to start five freshman now," Catanach said. "But they don't seem to know any better. So far it doesn't seem to have affected them negatively. I feel like we're still one of top teams in the league."
With UT on the road Sept. 3-4 in Salisbury, N.C., newcomers Margeaux Sinibaldi and Katelen Dixon proved they could play like veterans in victories against Catawba College, Francis Marion University and South Carolina-Spartanburg. Dixon averaged 4.3 kills a game and was named tournament MVP.
But Tampa lost junior outside hitter Ericka Womack to an ankle sprain in the tournament. She is expected to miss another week.
WOMEN'S SOCCER: Barry's reign over the SSC has been more than impressive, with a 37-game undefeated streak in conference play the past five seasons. Tampa hopes to end that streak Friday as it travels to Miami Shores hoping to upset the five-time defending champs in its SSC opener.
The Buccaneers (1-1) return eight starters from a 16-5-3 team. Last season Barry led the conference in goals (55) and fewest goals allowed (17); Tampa (4-0) ranked third in both (43 for, 32 against). But this year's Spartan team is much improved on defense, having allowed only one goal in four games, that in a 3-1 victory Sunday over Central Arkansas.
"We knew we had strong, athletic players," Spartans coach Bobby Johnston said. "The one thing we were unsure of is how they would gel. We are starting all freshmen and sophomores on defense so we're young, it's just a matter of how quickly they adjust to each other."
Friday's contest figures to be tight and pits the 2003 SSC Offensive Player of the Year, Barry forward Emelie Karlsson (40 goals, 108 points in 41 career games), against the league's Defensive Player of the Year, Tampa's Malana Winskas.
An aggressive Barry offense will put Tampa goalkeeper Shannon Aitken to the test. Thus far, the freshman appears to have made a seamless transition to the college game with shutouts in three of Tampa's first four games. She led Land O'Lakes High to the Class 5A title in 2003 and holds Pasco County records for shutouts in a season (19) and career (70).
CROSS COUNTRY: Powered by All-American Allison Mascas, UT's cross country team was second Saturday at the Florida State Invitational in Tallahassee. Mascas took second place in 18:27.07 in the 5K race.