It's about time.
After three straight seasons in the top three of the Sunshine State Conference, the Eckerd College men's basketball squad finally is getting some respect.
In the league's annual preseason poll, voted on by the coaches and sports information directors, the Tritons have been picked to finish second behind Florida Southern.
In the past, Eckerd usually was tabbed to place between sixth and eighth in the eight-team SSC.
"Everybody knows about us now," Tritons coach Tom Ryan said. "The expectations are different.
"We're going to have to prove ourselves every night," he said. "Nobody's going to take us lightly in this league, but then again they never do."
Ryan is optimistic before every season, but he's especially looking forward to the 2002-03 schedule, which begins Saturday at home against the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.
The reason for the high hopes is the return of eight players from a 21-7 squad last year that was the conference runner-up with a 10-4 record.
Leading the way should be junior center Cerwin Thompson, junior guard Kendrick Wilson, sophomore guard Sharrod McCree and senior forward Lester Chang Fong.
Chang Fong was injured last season and received a sixth year of eligibility. He will not be available until the end of the academic semester, which will be in mid-December.
On top of the experience returning, there are eight newcomers. Among them is former Dixie Hollins player and West Florida transfer Marcus Bryant, who likely will start at forward.
Marcus Washington of Bradenton Manatee High School also could get some playing time as a freshman.
"Part of what we're trying to do is get everybody on the same page," Ryan said. "We've got a lot of new players, and they've got to learn the system.
"We've got some guys banged up right now, but I'm sure everybody does. In the first part of the season the hope is to give guys minutes and build chemistry."
TRITONS SOCCER: The Eckerd women's squad finished the season 7-10-2 overall and 5-5-2 in the Sunshine State Conference.
That was good enough for fourth in the eight-team league.
Senior forward Monica Carrasco was named to the first-team all-conference squad after recording 15 goals and 2 assists in 19 games. Junior forward Johanna Wiborg and senior defender Brooke Lacey were named to the second team.
Barry forward Emelie Karlsson was the SSC player of the year.
Eckerd's men ended up 8-9, 2-5 and sixth in the league.
Senior defender Chase Brooks was a first-team all-conference selection. Junior Jon Mulshenock was a first-team at-large pick.
Barry senior forward Alen Marcina was the player of the year.
VOLLEYBALL: St. Petersburg qualified for the junior college state tournament in Jacksonville under first-year coach Teresa McLamb, but the Titans had a quick stay.
St. Petersburg College lost to Pasco-Hernando CC in the first round in five games, then suffered a defeat to Manatee CC to get eliminated. The Titans finished 18-20, 7-3 in the Suncoast Conference.
+ Eckerd played its last regular-season match Saturday against Saint Leo.
The Tritons entered 15-17 overall, 3-9 in the Sunshine State Conference.
NCAA regional play starts Thursday, but Eckerd did not qualify. The University of Tampa won the league title and a regional berth.
+ Clearwater Christian placed second in the NCCAA-II Tournament in Ankeny, Iowa.
The Cougars won four straight games in pool play, then advanced through the quarterfinals and semifinals to battle Providence College of Manitoba, Canada, in the championship. Clearwater Christian lost 30-23, 30-25, 17-30, 30-26.
It was the second season in a row that the Cougars (35-15) finished second in the nation.
Clearwater Christian's Jenny Goodson, the tourney's most valuable player, and Cindy Compton were selected first-team All-Americans.
Kerri Lamborn received honorable-mention All-American recognition after making the first team of the all-tourney squad.
Melinda Tennison won an NCCAA scholar athlete award.