Losing their first match of the season was disheartening enough for the University of Tampa volleyball team. Erasing the 0-1 mark seemed to take forever. The first win, against vastly overpowered Florida Tech, didn't come for eight more days. UT was then stuck at 1-1 for another week.
The Spartans broke away from that meager record by sweeping through their own Tampa Invitational Friday and Saturday, emerging with four victories in as many matches. UT lost just one of 13 games in defeating Fontbonne (Mo.), Missouri-St. Louis and Florida Atlantic in straight sets and South Carolina-Aiken three games to one.
Tampa is ranked ninth in Division II again this week, marking its 62nd appearance in the past 67 Top 20 polls during the last six years.
Tampa (7-1 overall, 7-0 SSC entering Saturday night's match) beat Eckerd on Wednesday night and a strong Barry team Friday night 15-5, 15-4, 15-3. The Spartans travel to Saint Leo Saturday. Amy Edwards led Tampa with 11 kills and four blocks against Barry.
"We didn't play real well in our first match," said UT coach Chris Catanach. "But (last weekend) I saw a really stingy level of play, giving up just 14 points (to Missouri-St. Louis) and 18 points (to Florida Atlantic) in two of our matches. That kind of stingy play is important because this year there are five competitive teams in the conference instead of just us and Florida Southern. Barry, Rollins and North Florida are all good." North Florida is not eligible for the SSC title in this, its first season in the league.
Catanach cited seniors Renee Ott and Alison Campbell and junior transfer Anne Bolger as being the catalysts to the team's resurgence.
"Renee is hitting as hard and smart as she's ever been, she's really tough defensively and her service is accurate and consistent," Catanach said. "Together, Renee and Anne are exciting to watch. They keep more balls in play than last year. Alison is inspirational in her play. We've slowed down her set a bit, and it has helped her hitting."
Ott said the sparse early schedule was not advantageous. "We needed to be playing someone besides ourselves in practice," she said. "Last weekend got us on the right track."
Setting goals other than simply winning also lifted the team past the early rough spots.
"We made a deal with coach Catanach that if we held Florida Tech to under five points in each game, we would get to run the next practice," she said. "We did it, but when they got the fourth point (twice), we got tougher. We played like it was game point. I think maybe that little extra goal has helped us."
How's this rank? By virtue of a thrilling 5-3 victory over Division II defending national champion and then-No. 1 Florida Tech a week ago Saturday, the UT soccer team (6-0-0 overall, 2-0-0 SSC entering Saturday night's game) was ranked No. 1 Tuesday morning. Some players didn't even know the news when they assembled to prepare for the trip to Division I Central Florida at noon Tuesday.
"This is great news," said junior Adrian Bush after looking at the poll. "I may be out this year, but I'm enjoying it as much as if I was playing." Bush has been redshirted because of a knee injury.
UT responded to its ranking with a 4-0 victory over Central Florida.
Bush, who has two years of eligibility remaining, was UT's top scorer with 22 goals and a school-record 56 points as a sophomore in 1991.
Meanwhile, freshman Kristjan Brooks has scored seven goals on just 10 attempts.
Scoring machine: Despite the loss of Bush, the Spartans were ranked No. 2 in the country entering the week in goals per game with 5.00. (Wisconsin-Parkside was first.) Tuesday's 4-0 victory gives them 29 goals in six games (4.83).
The Spartans have three shutouts and have outscored Division I teams 7-0 in two victories.
Fresh talent: Freshmen have scored 13 of the 29 goals and made 16 of 31 assists. That's 42 of the team's 89 points, or 47 percent of the scoring.
In all, seven freshmen have scored. Newcomer Brooks, from Iceland, is tied for the team lead in goals (seven) and points (16) with senior George Fotopoulos. Freshmen Juan Panesso (Chamberlain High), Sergio Jaramillo (Hillsborough) and Ulf Lilius (Sweden) each have one goal and four assists. Matt Biggs (Winter Park) has one goal and two assists and Anthony Fotopolous (Leto) and Rafnar Hermannsson (Iceland) have one goal each.
A dent in the depth: A broken foot could sideline freshman Anthony Fotopoulos for the rest of the season. He was injured in the Central Florida game. Anthony Fotopoulos had played in all six games, but has yet to start.
Senior Mikael Grennas had started 59 of 61 career games until last week, when an upper leg strain forced him out of UT's victory over Florida Tech.