By ROD GIPSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2000
TAMPA -- The University of Tampa volleyball program is coming off its second national runner-up finish in the past four seasons.
During that time, the Spartans have been to three Elite Eights.
Last year was UT's fourth consecutive Sunshine State Conference championship, ending a regular season that saw the team win 32 matches, never drop out of the national top 10 and post a 23-match win streak.
So what does coach Chris Catanach and his squad have to prove?
Absolutely nothing -- and everything at the same time.
"Last year is behind us," said Catanach, who is entering his 17th season at UT. "We can't even measure this team by what we did last year.
"This team has some of the elements of last year," he said. "But there is enough new talent here now that we are still looking at what we have and what we can do."
Catanach does have the advantage of knowing what his key veterans are capable of doing.
Senior hitter Kam Gillispie and sophomore middle hitter Tiffany Boatwright are the main components.
En route to being named the SSC's Freshman of the Year, the 6-foot-1 Boatwright was tops in the league in attack percentage and blocks (.413/170).
Gillispie, a 5-11 hitter who plays outside, was second-team all-SSC. She totaled 295 kills and posted a 0.46 ace per game average.
"Kam is our captain, and she realizes the importance of this season," said Catanach, whose team starts the year ranked eighth in the nation by the AVCA's Division II poll.
"She knows as a senior this is it for her, so she has really showed up in exceptional shape. And Tiffany is right there along with her in great shape and with the right attitude."
The Gillispie-Boatwright duo and a solid supporting cast will be counted on heavily until the younger players improve. Katie Beth and Lisa Webster are the key role players from the hitter position.
They will be joined by Krissi MacIntyre (362 digs last year), Lacey Myers (49 kills) and Katie Levins, all of whom are expected to see significant playing time.
The Spartans, who open their season Saturday as the host of the six-team Tampa Classic, have several newcomers.
Catanach hesitantly labels the freshmen as his strongest recruiting class.
Each one is a presidential scholar, five were players of the year in high school and one was a prep all-American. Three played for high school teams that were state runners-up last season. Among those players is 5-11 hitters Sandi Fox.
Fox was the only Florida player named to Volleyball Magazine's high school All-America team last year. Another key Tampa newcomer is Yoshiko Ozawa, a former Berkeley Prep standout who offers size and strength as a 6-2 middle hitter.
"We worked really hard with this class," Catanach said. "We wanted to get recruiting chemistry, and we think we did.
"Obviously they are very athletic. They've got great fitness levels, and they're all eager," he said. "Now it's just a matter of how fast they develop."
While Catanach waits, he will have to contend with the losses of frontliners Becky Hart, Chevara Smith, Jolene Patton (transfer to USF) and four-year starter and All-American setter Danielle Faggion.
"We've lost a lot, but we aren't looking back," Catanach said. "We won't let our lack of experience hinder us, but we still have some voids to fill.
"We may be good enough to get back to the Final Four, but then again, we'll have to see if we even get out of our region."