Spartan sports efforts that often get overlooked

University of Tampa baseball isnít the only local sports entity excelling under the radar
University of Tampa baseball coach Joe Urso, surrounded by his team after a 2014 practice, presides over arguably the most unheralded sports program in the bay area. (Times)
University of Tampa baseball coach Joe Urso, surrounded by his team after a 2014 practice, presides over arguably the most unheralded sports program in the bay area. (Times)
Published June 10

A University of Tampa national title in baseball has evolved into a rite of early June, an observance nearly as customary as graduation ceremonies and the arrival of afternoon storms. Just last weekend, the Spartans quietly captured the program’s eighth Division II national championship and fifth since 2006. So why does Coach Joe Urso’s program seem so unheralded locally? Well, it’s tough carving a niche in a major-league city that also features a Division I athletic program across town. But don’t fret, Spartans, you’re hardly the only ultra-successful sports program (or person) that gets overshadowed in our sprawling market. We’ve listed a few right here.

University of Tampa baseball

The University of Tampa has won five national titles in Coach Joe Urso's 19 seasons. (Times)
The University of Tampa has won five national titles in Coach Joe Urso's 19 seasons. (Times)

The Spartans won their first national title under then-coach Lelo Prado in 1992, and have remained the nation’s premier D-II program since. They’ve especially flourished under Urso, a Plant High alumnus who has won five titles in his 19 seasons. Someone explain to us again why he hasn’t gotten a D-I job? We’ll hang up and listen.

Eckerd women’s basketball

The Eckerd women's basketball team has won at least 20 games in four of the last five seasons. (Andy Meng/Stageshot Photography)
The Eckerd women's basketball team has won at least 20 games in four of the last five seasons. (Andy Meng/Stageshot Photography)

Aside from one winter hiccup (a 12-win season in 2015-16), this program quietly has been rolling the last half-decade. Under coach Paul Honsinger, Eckerd has won 22 or more games four of the last five seasons, reaching four NCAA Tournaments in that span.

USF women’s sailing

USF's women's sailing team has become a national title contender under coach Allison Jolly. (USF Athletics)
USF's women's sailing team has become a national title contender under coach Allison Jolly. (USF Athletics)

Stands to reason a school residing in a peninsula would possess a quality sailing program. The Bulls have reached the national finals in seven of the last eight years, finishing 14th at last month’s nationals. USF’s coach, Allison Jolly, is a 1988 Olympic gold medalist and member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

Tom Daugherty

Tom Daugherty bowled his way to victory of the 20th annual Spring Hill Open at Spring Hill Lanes in 2008. (Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO/Hernando Today)
Tom Daugherty bowled his way to victory of the 20th annual Spring Hill Open at Spring Hill Lanes in 2008. (Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO/Hernando Today)

Sorry, but if you had to Google this dude’s name, you’re cheating. Daugherty, a Riverview resident, has won two titles on the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour, and has rolled 19 ― NINETEEN ― 300 games in PBA play. A dad of four, Daugherty already has a pair of top-five finishes this season.

USF softball

USF softball coach Ken Eriksen with his team during the National Anthem before taking on FGCU in Tampa on February 27, 2019. Eriksen recently was named coach of the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
USF softball coach Ken Eriksen with his team during the National Anthem before taking on FGCU in Tampa on February 27, 2019. Eriksen recently was named coach of the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. (DIRK SHADD | Times)

Oh sure, this program has enjoyed some recent limelight since its coach, Ken Eriksen, was named coach of the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. But normally, the Bulls quietly maintain a striking level of steadiness. Aside from men’s and women’s tennis, this is the only Bulls program that consistently reaches the NCAA Tournament (15 in Eriksen’s 23 seasons), and its 2012 Women’s College World Series berth remains a shining moment in all of Bulls athletics.

University of Tampa volleyball

The University of Tampa and Coach Chris Catanach captured its third Division II National Championship with a five-set victory over Western Washington University on Dec. 1. (Photo courtesy of University of Tampa)
The University of Tampa and Coach Chris Catanach captured its third Division II National Championship with a five-set victory over Western Washington University on Dec. 1. (Photo courtesy of University of Tampa)

Baseball isn’t the only Spartans sport excelling under the radar. Behind Chris Catanach, entering his 36th season as coach, UT volleyball has made 33 NCAA tourney appearances and won its third national title last fall. Along the way, Catanach has racked up more nearly 1,100 triumphs.

Advertisement