Five candidates remain in soccer coach search

Tampa officials appear to be narrowing the search for a new women's soccer coach to replace the recently departed Bobby Johnston, who resigned in April to take an assistant position at his alma mater, James Madison.

By DAVID NORRIE, Times correspondent
Published April 29, 2007

Tampa officials appear to be narrowing the search for a new women's soccer coach to replace the recently departed Bobby Johnston, who resigned in April to take an assistant position at his alma mater, James Madison.

The group of candidates includes former Spartans assistant Gerry Lucey, UT assistant Eddie Rodriguez, former Virginia Commonwealth head coach Chris Brown, Missouri assistant Amy Edwards and Danielle Fotopoulos, a member of the 1999 FIFA U.S. Women's World Cup championship team.

While it's difficult to say who the front-runner is, each candidate appears well qualified.

Lucey, who left Tampa after the 2004 season, led West Chester University to a 23-1 record and an appearance in the Division II Final Four in 2006.

Rodriguez was an All-American at the University of New Mexico before a brief stint in Major League Soccer.

Brown already lives in Tampa and is volunteering as an assistant to his wife, Denise Schilte-Brown, who was named head coach at the University of South Florida in December.

Edwards was a part of two Final Four teams while an assistant at Notre Dame, and Fotopoulos, who scored the game-winning goal in Florida's upset over North Carolina in the 1998 NCAA Championship game, went on to break Mia Hamm's NCAA all-time scoring record (103) by finishing her collegiate career with 118 goals.

An announcement is expected within the next three weeks.

TENNIS: On Friday, the Spartans will make their first appearance in the NCAA Division II Tennis Tournament, taking on No. 10 Nova Southeastern in the first round of the Southeast Regional in Fort Lauderdale.

It's a great accomplishment, said coach Al DuFaux, whose team recorded its first winning season since 1993, finishing with a 15-9 record.

"We've been nationally ranked for the last four years, but we play in the toughest conference in the country, and to get into the tournament you have to one of the top eight teams in the region, " DuFaux said. "So for instance, when you're ranked 27th in the country but seventh in your conference, you can see what we're up against."

The Spartans are ranked No. 8 in the Southeast Region. Five of the teams ranked ahead of them are from their own Sunshine State Conference, so there are no easy matches on the schedule.

While that has hurt them in the past, the competition has also made the team stronger - in addition to a talented freshman class that boasts the team's No. 1, 2 and 3 players.

A definite underdog, DuFaux said in order to be successful at regionals, everybody needs to peak and play their best tennis of the year.

BASEBALL: In mid April, the Spartans lost their first conference series since 2005, dropping two of three games to Lynn. In one of those losses, pitcher Ross Jackson gave up six earned runs on 10 hits.

While it was no reason to hit the panic button, coach Joe Urso was concerned, as UT fell out the of the top spot to No. 7 in the national rankings. And for the first time in two years, Tampa's perch atop the conference was being threatened.

Heading into last weekend's series against second-place Florida Tech, Urso rallied the team mentally and intensified practice, as pitching coach Sam Militello worked with Jackson and the rest of the staff.

The result? A three-game sweep of the Panthers on the road and a jump back up in the polls to No. 3 - not to mention redemption for Jackson who, pitched eight scoreless innings, striking out six in a Game 2 win. For his effort, the senior was named SSC pitcher of the week.

"I had been struggling a bit with command, so I just wanted to come out and get ahead on the counts and feel confident, and that's what I did, " Jackson said. "I think you're only as good as your last performance. And we might have had too much swagger at one point.

"But after the talks we had as a team and coming into the Florida Tech series the way we did, getting the job done, I think we're now ready and prepared for the postseason."

Heading into the weekend, Tampa (39-9, 14-4) had a three-game lead on both Lynn (30-19, 11-7) and Florida Southern (36-11, 11-7) in the conference.