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Tampa volleyball countson abilities, new scheme
Spartans, ranked No. 2 in the nation, have set their sights on a rematch with Grand Valley State for Division II crown.
By DAVID NORRIE
Published August 29, 2006
TAMPA - Once again, the University of Tampa volleyball team enters the season with high expectations.
And once again, Grand Valley State (Mich.) could attempt to thwart them.
The Spartans, who fell to Grand Valley in the Division II national semifinals last season, are ranked No. 2 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll behind the Lakers, who went on to win the national title.
With 20 NCAA Tournament appearances in 22 seasons, coach Chris Catanach knows his squad - with four returning starters - has a good chance to get back in title contention and perhaps a rematch with the Lakers. He hopes a boost in athleticism, in addition to a new 6-2 offensive formation, can make the difference.
"I won't make any predictions but this could be an outstanding team," said Catanach, whose 2005 club finished 29-4. "I like the kids a lot and I like how they are developing, getting better and better."
While the graduation of Sunshine State Conference and South Region player of the year Ericka Womack hurts, Catanach hopes to fill the void with a combination of players that includes a pair of 6-foot-1 newcomers in redshirt freshman Alisha Green and Florida State transfer Danielle MacDonald.
Neither played a game for the Spartans last year, but showed considerable talent in the spring. MacDonald, who played 15 games for the Seminoles in 2004, will compete for time in the middle or right side. Of Green, Catanach says "not only will she be one of the biggest, but most athletic, players on the floor."
The pair's size and athleticism figure to complement returning outside hitter Stephanie Rivera, a 2005 second-team All-American.
As a sophomore in 2003, Rivera was an All-SSC selection and ranked among the top 30 players nationally in hitting percentage. She was a redshirt the following season, but returned to the team last year, leading the Spartans in kills (377), aces (111) and points (465.5).
Returning starters Tarah Marinelli, Katelen Dixon and Gabriela Saade give the team added experience and leadership. As a setter, Saade figures prominently in the new 6-2 scheme, a formation Catanach likens to a football team with rotating quarterbacks.
"If it all comes together, we'll figure to play nine or 10 players every match," said Catanach, whose team won its first four matches. "It should bring about more team unification but means we can't afford much in the way of injury."
Catanach was very pleased with the success he witnessed from the new formation during spring scrimmages against such Division I opponents as Georgia, Miami and South Florida.
"It's not necessarily about how tall a girl is but rather how high she can reach," he said. "We have lost height at certain positions, but our athleticism and jumping ability is better all around."
In conference play, Florida Southern again should pose the stiffest challenge to the Spartans, who have either won or shared nine of the last 10 SSC titles. Florida Southern, which represents the Spartans' only conference loss last season, entered the preseason AVCA poll at No. 11, its highest ranking since 2000 (10th).
The first matchup with the Moccasins comes in Lakeland on Sept. 29. It's part of an early test for the Spartans, who begin September with 13 of 14 matches on the road.