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Svendsen is running away from his conference competition

Gunnar Svendsen has been doing a lot of looking over his shoulder lately at the Sunshine State Conference competition.

Three meets into the season, the University of Tampa senior has finished first among conference runners each time. Svendsen recorded his best finish of the season, second overall, weeks ago at the Florida Southern Invitational despite running an extra loop on a poorly marked course. He will be attempting to win his first individual title of the season Saturday morning when the Spartans host the UT Invitational at Lake Park in north Tampa.

With Svendsen leading, an improved Spartans squad is looking for its first SSC team championship since it was awarded the 1981 title by default after St. Thomas won the race with an ineligible runner. The SSC meet is Oct. 31 at Melbourne.

"It's been better than I expected this year," said Svendsen, of Point Pleasant, N.J. "One of our runners (Dave Shilkitus) was too busy with ROTC, so I didn't know what kind of team we were going to be. Now we're beating the rest of the conference. But I'm not too confident yet. (Two-time defending champion) Florida Tech started school late and isn't really in shape yet."

Svendsen said he took up running in high school to combat a weight problem.

"I'm 5-11{ and 155 to 160 pounds," he said. "I used to weigh 205."

Currently, he trains on his own, running 10 miles a day. Lately, he has added to his regimen quarter-mile sprints on a track.

Svendsen never ran cross country until he was 22 and transferred to UT from Salem (W.Va) College. The 1990 season had already begun when Svendsen was in Ruth Bragg's biokinetics class.

"One of the things you had to do to get an A was run a mile and a half in 9 minutes," Svendsen recalled. "I ran it in 7:45."

Bragg asked him if he was on the cross country team. "I don't even think he knew what it was," Bragg said.

At Bragg's urging, Svendsen joined the team and was medalist in the SSC race as a sophomore a month later. He slipped to third last year and would like to regain that title.

"Right now, he's by far the strongest runner in the conference," said UT coach Peter Brust. "I leave him on his own because the rest of them can't run with him."

Making ground: Maybe they can't keep up with Svendsen, but the rest of the UT men's runners have finished well enough to put the Spartans ahead of all other SSC schools in the first three races this season. UT was fifth overall at Stetson's and Saint Leo's invitationals and second last week, but that result is tainted because several runners ran an extra loop.

"Our No. 2 runner, (sophomore) Dave Hudson, is really coming on," Brust said. "He's not that far behind Gunnar anymore. He could be two, three, four in the conference. All of a sudden he's realized he's pretty good."

UT's next three runners, Jon Hageman, Kenneth Cook and Mohammed Sheriff, are all freshmen. Gary Williams is No. 6 and James Dugas is seventh.

Women chasing Tritons: Eckerd remains the team to beat among the SSC women. Tampa has finished beind the Tritons in team standings at each of the first three meets, but ahead of all other SSC schools.

Four-year letter-winner Linda Cassella is UT's top women's harrier. Newcomer Rebecca Schwindt, a sophomore, is "right behind her," Brust said. Seniors Deborah Rosmilso and Jessica Aragona and freshmen Valerie Cope and Rachel Marie Price complete the top six. Senior Rebecca Limmel rounds out the squad after an injury to Kristen Dosch and ROTC committments for Jalesia McQueen.

Rowing down the river: Florida Tech will host the inaugural SSC rowing championship April 3, 1993, in Melbourne.

Barry added crew this year, giving four SSC schools a rowing program, enough to hold a conference competition. Tampa, Florida Tech and Rollins have long-standing strong programs.

It's unanimous: The soccer team, ranked No. 1 in Division II for the first time in five years last week, retained that ranking this week with 20 of 20 first-place votes after wins over Central Florida and Rollins..

Tampa (7-0-0 overall, 3-0-0 SSC) is the only unbeaten, untied Division II team in the nation. The Spartans have scored 34 goals and allowed eight. Their 4.86 goals per game average is also No. 1 nationally.

The Spartans are off until Tuesday, when they play the first of three consecutive road games at Florida Southern. An Oct. 17 game at No. 16 Barry (8-1-0, 3-0-0) looms on the horizon as the probable determining contest for the conference championship.

Streaking: Entering a Wednesday night match against Rollins (8-5, 3-1), the volleyball team (8-1, 4-0) had won eight consecutive matches after an season-opening loss. UT remained in first place in the SSC, the only undefeated conference team.

The Spartans were preparing for a possible meeting with archrival Florida Southern in the FSC Invitational on Saturday. If that doesn't materialize _ the result would not count in the SSC standings even if it did _ the two will meet at Lakeland next Wednesday for the first time since the Moccasins beat No. 3 UT in the South Region final last November.

Also entered in the FSC tournament is No. 3 North Dakota State.

Tampa is ranked No. 9 this week, nine points behind No. 8 Florida Southern.

Autumns past: The last time UT won SSC titles in both soccer and volleyball was 1987, though one of those teams has captured a championship in every year since the school joined the conference in 1982.