The University of Tampa’s volleyball team won the NCAA Division II national championship on Saturday night. The Spartans defeated Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) in three straight sets.
According to Tampaspartans.com, All-American junior outside hitter Berkley Whaley won American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) player of the year and was given NCAA All-tournament team honors along with fellow All-American junior right side hitter Marissa Lisenbee, who led the Spartans with 12 kills in the match.
“I wasn’t really thinking about that award as much as wanting to win a championship alongside my teammates, so when Coach Catanach told me I was definitely caught off guard. It is definitely an award that people strive for and in the back of my head it was a dream of mine and to actually win it has meant the world to me. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and my coaches pushing me to play to my potential,” Whaley said.
It was the volleyball team’s second national title in program history and their first since 2006. Both titles have been won under head coach Chris Catanach. The Spartans’ last loss came against the Mustangs earlier this season but the Spartans have been 29-0 ever since.
“Winning a national championship is a feeling like no other. This group of kids bought into the commitment level needed to turn a goal of a championship into reality. Every match of the tournament contributed something toward the next opponent. We peaked in the end which is every coach’s dream,” Catanach said.
In the first set, the Spartans set the tone after back-to-back kills from junior outside hitter Megan Heffron and All-American middle blocker Jessica Wagner, which gave the Spartans an 8-6 lead. The Spartans went on an offensive run for the remainder of the set and were able to hold off the Mustangs by a 25-14 score.
The Spartans continued their offensive onslaught in the second set. It forced the Mustangs to use both of their timeouts early on in the set. SMSU fought back despite a large deficit but the Spartans took home a 25-20 second set victory.
The third set was the most challenging for the Spartans as they trailed through the first half of the set. After trailing 14-13, the Spartans took the lead for the first time in the set after another sequence of back-to-back kills by Heffron and Wagner once again.
The set was a back and forth fight between both squads but kills by Whaley and Lisenbee put the Spartans back on top 22-21. After that, the Spartans would not relinquish the lead as Whaley blasted a kill to take the final point of the set and the match.
Phil Novotny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org