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Once-apathetic Tritons are going in for the kill

The Eckerd College volleyball team is starting to take itself seriously.

After the Tritons' 9-1 start, others in the Sunshine State Conference better start taking them seriously.

In coach Hollie Miller's third year, the Tritons hope to do more than just compete against some of the league's top schools. Eckerd thinks it can win.

That's a far cry from three years ago, when the program was more like an intramural team.

"We'd have players say they were going to miss practice to do this or that, and I was like, "No. This is a team. You don't miss practices,' " said Miller, a former coach at Pinellas Park who continues to work at the high school during the day.

"We've cut a lot of players, but you have to be committed," Miller said. "You can't just show up and expect to play."

There's been steady improvement since Miller took over for Steve Larkin in 1998.

Last year, with a roster full of freshmen and sophomores, Eckerd was 16-17 overall but 2-12 in the conference.

This season's team has no seniors. There are nine newcomers, including five freshmen and four junior college transfers.

But the 9-1 start, including a championship in the Clearwater Chirstian College Tournament on Sept. 2, is Eckerd's best.

The reason?

It's attitude, the players say.

"There was definitely a feeling of well, we're not that good so let's just go out and show our faces," junior outside hitter and captain Emily King said.

"The attitude has definitely changed. We've lost a lot of the players who were just around for that. The players we have now are here to play."

Aside from King, who led the Tritons with 380 kills in 115 games last season, Eckerd is counting on sophomores Erin Johnson and Kelly Jackson.

Jackson, a setter, shattered the school record with 1,123 assists in 117 games as a freshman. Johnson led the team with 305 digs.

Newcomers Kelly Street, Sonja Skovsted, Courtney Kelly and former Clearwater High School player Samantha Hawk are all expected to make contributions.

In a preseason poll of the conference's coaches and sports information directors, Eckerd was predicted to finish seventh in the eight-team league.

Tampa, Florida Southern and Barry all have top notch programs. The Tritons see themselves fitting in just below those three, which would be a step up from seasons past.

"There's a lot more discipline, and the players are a lot more serious about winning," King said. "There's better chemistry. We all do things together outside of volleyball."

Eckerd played two matches against the University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon on Friday night.

The Tritons' next home match is Thursday against Palm Beach Atlantic. Their first conference match is Sept. 20 against Saint Leo.

ECKERD SOCCER TOURNAMENT: The Eckerd men's team is playing host to the Admiral Triton Kickoff Classic.

The tournament at the Eckerd soccer fields started Saturday and concludes today.

The Tritons played Catawba College on Saturday and will meet Northeastern State today at 5 p.m. In a 2:30 game, Lynn University battles Catawba.

On Thursday, Eckerd will get a big test when it plays at home against Lynn _ a national power and a contender for the conference championship.

Eckerd was 9-8 last season, a seven game improvement from 1998, and a lot of players return.

However, Andrew Simmons and Monteiro Santos, key scorers last year, will not return. Simmons is on a spiritual mission, and Santos is transferring.

The Eckerd women's squad is 1-1 after a 2-1 win over Pace University on Sept. 1. The Tritons play West Florida today at Florida Southern.

Eckerd may have a tougher time scoring after the graduation of Karah Smith, the conference's co-player of the year.

In her three seasons, Smith scored 58 goals. Stephanie Schwobe, Monica Carrasco and Jessica Burns are expected to help with the offensive load.