With a bevy of tough opponents, the University of Tampa volleyball team, ranked number three nationally, kicked off its season hosting the Tampa Classic.
The classic invited teams from across the nation to play in the Bob Martinez Sports Center to begin their season on the Labor Day weekend tournament.
The Spartans had a successful campaign, ending the tournament on Sunday with a 3-1 record.
Two-time Sunshine State Conference (SSC) Player of the Year Melissa Vanderhall had 43 kills on the weekend while also notching 10 blocks.
Outside hitters Jessica Yingling and Kaliegh Cunningham added 46 and 44 kills respectively, while setter Meghan Sherman picked up 172 assists.
Eva Dupay totaled 25 kills while also posting a .418 attack percentage. The junior outside hitter came through big for the Spartans as they enter the season with a 3-1 record.
“All but one of the teams were ranked in the top 15 in the nation”, Dupay said. “Every team we played was a different style, some were tall and some were fast.”
The opening match of the season led the Spartans to a tough win against No. 13 ranked University of Nebraska Kearney, Tampa topping the Lopers 3-2 in five sets.
Swift-setting Sherman added 50 assists to eclipse the 2000 mark in her career at UT while Yingling also dazzled with 17 kills.
Vanderhall added four blocks and 15 kills as she began her senior season of play against the Lopers.
The Spartans then trampled Northern Kentucky University in three sets. NKU could not stifle the dominant Vanderhall, who added 11 kills and attacked at a .688 clip, committing no errors on the match.
NKU did not have an answer for senior Sam Macks either as she attacked at a .857 percentage, posting a kill in six of seven attempts.
Dupay flashed her offense with eight kills while also committing no errors.
“Northern Kentucky was fast, some teams drew out their touches or put height on the ball, but they were fast with their touches,” Dupay said.
However, when the Spartans faced the top-ranked Concordia University, they were handed their first loss in a back and forth heart breaker.
In the first set, the Spartans made quick work of the Golden bears, winning at a 25-13 deficit. CU quickly returned to form as they defeated the Spartans in the fourth set.
Vanderhall picked up another 14 kills while also adding some defense with five blocks on the match.
Dupay worked as a sparkplug to try and ignite the Spartan offense by tallying some key kills, but the No. 1 Golden Bears overcame the Spartans in their Friday night contest.
“I live for the high pressure situations,” said Dupay, a Fort Myers native. “I want the ball when we are down at match point. I am not afraid of making mistakes- it is my competitive nature.”
CU ended the tournament 3-1, losing only to Grand Valley State University. The loss snapped Concordia’s 75 game winning streak.
On the final match of the Tampa Classic, the Spartans faced Grand Valley State.
The contest went to three sets, with the Spartans notching a tough victory against the Lakers, who fell to 1-3 on the weekend.
Dupay continued to stun opponents, grounding 10 kills in 13 attempts while committing no errors.
Cunningham continued off of her breakout season, adding 14 kills. An Orlando, Fla. native, Yingling ended the match attacking at a .435 clip with 12 kills.
The Spartans hit the road for the weekend as they head to Denver, Co. to play in the Colorado Premier tournament, where they will face the likes of Dowling University and the Lewis University Flyers.
The weekend road trip begins on Sept. 10 at noon against Dowling.
Marc Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.