By ROD GIPSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000
TAMPA -- Hitters Kam Gillispie and Ania Ruiz combined for 27 kills to lead Tampa's volleyball team to a 15-7, 15-6, 15-5 victory over North Florida in the Division II South Region championship match Saturday.
The win is the first step toward besting last year's national runner-up finish. The win sent Tampa (29-3) to the Division II Elite Eight, where it faces North Alabama on Nov. 30 at a site to be determined Monday.
"We had goals set this season and it's very exciting to continue to achieve them," coach Chris Catanach said. "The expectations for us have become heavier, and we feel we have every ability to get there."
The Spartans showed a lot of that ability against North Florida (27-7), trailing just three times throughout the match and never facing any serious threats. After building big leads in each game, the Spartans were able to turn back all comeback attempts by the Ospreys, who had few answers for Gillispie or Ruiz.
"Tampa just played great," North Florida coach Bryan Bunn said. "They are obviously very talented. We tried to take them out of their offense but we didn't. And once they got up, we just didn't have the guns to keep up with them."
North Florida's best opportunity came in the opening game. Trailing 9-4, North Florida turned back a Tampa scoring chance with a spirited return, highlighted by a kill by hitter Julie Bekker. But the Spartans got a kill in the middle of the court from Gillispie that returned the serve to Tampa and set the tone for the rest of the match.
"We're happy with the way we played," said Gillispie, who had eight digs and three service aces. "But we know we need to step up our play. We have to keep working as a team like we have been, and once we're there we can do what we have to do."
SEC: Top-seeded Florida ousted Tennessee for the second straight year, beating the Vols 15-10, 15-13, 15-9 in the semifinals.
The host Gators, undefeated in conference play in the regular season, will be looking for their eighth tournament title at 1 p.m. today against No. 7 seed LSU.
The Tigers advanced by beating Georgia 15-11, 15-10, 15-11.
"Without us playing in terms of an A-plus game, we did some good things," Florida coach Mary Wise said. "Kris (Bova) was very good in her set distribution, Aury Cruz had 21 digs. Twenty-one digs in three games is getting it done."
Cruz also led the Gators with 15 kills. Her total for digs was a career high.
Florida and LSU have not met in the final since 1992. Wise is 3-1 against the Tigers in tournament play. The lone loss was her first season in 1991.
CONFERENCE USA: South Florida beat Houston 15-8, 7-15, 15-11, 4-15, 15-13 in the semifinals at Charlotte, N.C.
USF (27-4) extended its winning streak to 20 and advanced to the conference championship at 2 p.m. today.
The Bulls defense set up the win in the first game, but USF committed 12 hitting errors in the second game. The teams exchanged games for the rest of the close match.
"Overall great team effort," USF coach Nancy Mueller said. "This was a great situation to come back and beat a very good team in Houston. They were ready to play and we responded."
ACC: North Carolina beat Virginia 15-6, 5-10, 15-10 in the semifinals at Winston-Salem, N.C. North Carolina advanced to the conference championship at 3:30 p.m. today against Duke, which beat Florida State on Friday. Sophomore outside hitter Laura Greene had 14 kills and seven digs, and sophomore Eve Rackham had 46 assists to lead North Carolina (25-7). Virginia finished at 16-15.
-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.