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New leadership pays dividends for Titans

Tampa Bay Tech is unbeaten under first-year coach Nitta Omensetter.

By JEREMY RASMUSSEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 1, 2000


TAMPA -- Those who followed the U.S. women's volleyball team in this year's Olympics saw an unheralded squad exceed all expectations to finish just shy of a medal.

No less surprising on the local scene is the story of Tampa Bay Tech.

The Titans, who have never had a winning season -- much less a shot at a district title -- are 10-0 with three regular-season games remaining. A big reason for their turnaround is the arrival of coach Nitta Omensetter.

Coaching changes are nothing new at TBT. This year's seniors are playing under their fourth coach in four years. But Omensetter's work ethic has affected the team, and it has responded with a new attitude.

"They know how to win now," Omensetter said. "The last three years, they weren't getting the wins. Now that they've started winning, they suddenly realize that they don't want to lose."

Omensetter took a circuitous route to Tech. She graduated high school in 1990 and earned a scholarship to Rollins College. But after playing one season, she decided not to go back. She stayed home and got her associate's degree at Hillsborough Community College. While she did not play for HCC, she stayed in the game as an assistant to Robinson's Don Cherry.

Ironically, one of her Robinson players was Keesha Parham, who now is the Tech junior varsity coach and Omensetter's assistant.

When Omensetter enrolled at Barry University in 1995, she assumed her college eligibility had expired. But by chance, she wound up playing one more year of college ball.

One day, her English class was canceled, and she went to the gym to find a volleyball class in progress. She asked to hit a few balls. On her first spike, Barry coach Dave Nichols almost swallowed his whistle.

"I made one hit, and (Nichols) came up and asked me why I wasn't playing for him," she said.

Nichols checked with the NCAA and found Omensetter had a year of eligibility left. She became the starting outside hitter for a Barry team that reached the 1998 national regional final.

Now Omensetter brings her experience and hard-hitting attitude to a team that desperately needed it.

Sophomore Jovanna Echevarria said the team had never seen the types of practices that Omensetter and Parham conduct now.

"(Omensetter) works hard, and she makes us work hard," Echevarria said. "We're basically running every minute of practice. But it really helps us to move better when we're out on the court."

Two years ago, the Titans did not win a single game, let alone a match, finishing 0-10. Last year's squad was 5-8. Now the Titans have a chance to go unbeaten. This week, they face Gaither and Sickles -- two teams Omensetter believes they can beat.

"These will be big tests for us," she said. "I feel like we're evenly matched with Gaither. Sickles has several club players. We'll have to play our best to beat them."

Omensetter has found a kindred spirit in middle hitter Melissa Higgins, perhaps known better by some for her softball prowess.

"She is just a great athlete," Omensetter said. "She is our leader. The reason she's so good is if I tell her to go through a wall, she'll go through it.

"I don't have to yell at the team. She does it for me."

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