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Volleyball team enters final run needing wins

By ROD GIPSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


TAMPA -- If this year's University of Tampa volleyball team looks a lot like last year's, you're not seeing double. About 365 days ago, the Spartans were 25-4 and coming off big wins over Barry and North Florida.

They also were on their way to a Sunshine State Conference title, hosting the NCAA Division II South Regional tournament and a national runner-up finish.

If this year's Spartans are doomed to repeat history, that might not be such a bad thing. UT is 22-3 heading into today's home match against Lynn. Saturday, the Spartans host Barry and Tuesday travel to North Florida.

The importance of this stretch of matches is twofold. One, UT is trying to earn its fifth consecutive conference crown. Two, it is trying to nail down the top seed in region and the home-court advantage for the tournament. "That's the bottom line right now," coach Chris Catanach said. "Maintain control of the region and the conference."

For that to happen, UT must take care of Barry and North Florida, both of whom are highly ranked regionally. The Spartans remain the South Region's top-ranked team, followed by North Florida at No. 2 and Barry at No. 4. If UT beats both, the top seed of the six-team regional tournament is guaranteed.

Split the two, and they will probably still hang on to the top seed, pending the pollsters voting. Lose both, and the Spartans need help. Like other Barry or North Florida losses. Or losses by Armstrong Atlantic State, currently ranked third. Catanach and the Spartans are out to avoid any scenario that has them scoreboard watching.

"It's very similar to last season," Catanach said. "Last year, we had a few games to win at the end of the season, and we came out okay. Maybe the only difference with this team is that it's younger and some of the players have started early. But both teams showed a lot of consistency."

Barry (21-6, 9-1) is second in the conference and still looking for a league title. The Spartans lost to Barry in four games Sept. 29 but has been untouchable since, winning 12 in a row.

North Florida has been equally hot. The Ospreys have won 19 of 21 since their Sept. 6 loss to the Spartans.

UT enters this weekend's matches with seven consecutive victories, the edge of previously beating their upcoming three opponents and an offense leading the conference in attacking and second in assists. But it is limping into the last month of the season. Hitter Kam Gillispie has been nursing an abdominal strain for the past few weeks and still isn't 100 percent, and setter Gretchen Naruta sprained her ankle last week against Saint Leo but played in UT's 15-11, 14-16, 8-15, 15-8, 15-11 win Saturday.

"We've really had some tough matches lately," Catanach said. "The Florida Southern match was a real gut check for us. Winning that match gave us a lot of confidence. I like how we're playing, and I like where we are at right now."

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