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Women's sports gain more attention

Men's sports at the University of Tampa have typically stolen headlines and garnered the most attention: First with football in the 1960s and '70s, then with baseball in the 1980s and early '90s and, most recently, basketball and soccer.

But with three fall sports _ soccer, cross country and volleyball _ receiving national attention this year, it's hard to overlook the women's teams at UT.

"We won't get same attention men's sports get, that's just a fact of life, but we are enjoying the success," said volleyball coach Chris Catanach, also an assistant athletic director.

Catanach, in his 21st season at Tampa, is no stranger to success in women's athletics. His .825 career winning percentage ranks first among active Division II coaches and his 602 victories rank fifth. His teams have made the NCAA tournament 18 of the past 20 years.

But though the volleyball program is used to winning, it's new to UT cross country and soccer. Both burst on the national scene last year; soccer reached an all-time high No. 13 in the coaches' poll and cross-country reached No. 8, also a program best.

Both have reason to believe this season could be even more successful.

The latest polls have volleyball (eighth) and cross country (10th) ranked in the top 10 and soccer at No. 19. Over the weekend, junior Allison Mascas was the only Division II runner among the top 10 in the 5K Gator Invitational at Gainesville, placing fifth in 17 minutes, 55 seconds.

The Spartans were the highest placing Division II school, finishing fourth, just behind third place South Florida (DI) and ahead of DI schools Central Florida (ninth) and Miami (11th).

"Our goal heading into this season was to finish in the top five nationally," cross-country coach Jarrett Slaven said. "Last year we got as high as No. 8 and went to the nationals for the first time as a team. This is probably the strongest group of girls we've had; they are the ones who got this team on the map."

On Friday, the women's soccer team took No. 9 Barry, the five-time reigning Sunshine State Conference champion, to overtime before losing 2-1. Barry extended its SSC unbeaten streak to 38. That same day, Tampa volleyball defeated Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras 3-0 in the Spartans home opener, marking the team's sixth straight win.

Catanach believes the recent success of women's sports can be attributed to increased funding over the past 10 years and additions at the university aesthetically and academically.

"Our student body is like 64 percent female," Catanach said. "Our academics have gotten better and new buildings have made it a more attractive campus. Most females that come here respond well and recruiting has become a lot easier for females."

MEN'S SOCCER: The Spartans were stretched thin Saturday at Miami Shores. Down to 10 payers for 75 minutes against No. 23 Seattle Pacific, the Spartans failed to hold a one goal lead and fell 2-1.

Tampa lost to Barry two days earlier on the same field when a yellow card in the second overtime forced the Spartans to play down a man. Barry didn't need much time to take advantage, scoring six minutes later to win 3-2 in double overtime.

Tampa (2-3) looks to even its record in its home conference opener against Eckerd on Wednesday.

_ DAVID NORRIE, Times correspondent