In 2006, they battled injuries, lost their best player and All-American Ericka Womack to graduation and had one of the toughest schedules in the nation, yet the University of Tampa volleyball team lost just one match on their way to the team’s first national championship in school history.
This year looks very similar as the Spartans enter the season without two of its top players from last year, All-American Stephanie Rivera and starter Tarah Marinelli. Despite the losses, Tampa heads into the year ranked first in both the Sunshine State Conference and the nation.
The Spartans are returning five starting players from last year’s team, including Tampa’s all-time dig leader Margeaux Sinibaldi. Sinibaldi has recorded 1,681 digs in her career and is 133 away from the all-time conference record.
“We graduated three seniors who all contributed tremendously to our program, but we return five players from the National Championship team, so we have potential to be very good,” Sinibaldi said.
Sinibaldi thinks that the Spartans success this year will rely upon a solid team game rather than standout individual performances.
“We won last year not because we overpowered everyone, but we did outwork them and our team chemistry is what made us so good,” she said. “So this year we need to keep working harder than last year because everyone will be out to beat Tampa. Like every other team, we cannot become complacent.”
Other key returning players include Katelen Dixon, Alisha Green, Danielle MacDonald, Erin Clark and Gabriela Saade.
Dixon led the team in kills last season with 443 and was named to the All-American team.
Green returns to the middle blocker position after recording 342 kills in 2006.
MacDonald will be vital to the team’s success once again this year. Last year the transfer from Florida State showed her ability to take over a match during the team’s playoff stretch. After Rivera went down with a knee injury, MacDonald and Dixon became the majority of the offensive attack.
Clark, Annalea Warren and Camila Saade will all probably see more playing time this year and become regular contributors to the team.
Tampa kicked off the season on Thursday, Aug. 23 with a three match tournament featuring some of the premier teams in the nation. Schools traveled from California, Washington and Colorado to play in the Tampa Classic.
The Spartans dropped their opening match of the season 3-1 to third-ranked NAIA California Baptist, but came back to sweep 23rd-ranked Western Washington and Colorado-Colorado Springs to improve to 2-1 on the season.
“We played very well in the first game against California Baptist, but we didn’t come out in the second game and we were never able to get it back,” Tampa coach Chris Catanach said about the opening match loss.
“I am happy about the way we came back though, dominating last night and again today,” Catanach said about the UCCS match. “There are still 27 regular season games left and we have a long way to go, but I am excited about this group.”
The Spartans will travel to California on Friday, Aug. 31 to play in the Cal-State-Monterey tournament. The team’s next home game is scheduled for Sept. 22 when Tampa takes on rival Florida Southern.