By Gabe Cohn
As the women’s basketball regular season winds down and the conference tournaments come into frame, every university honors their seniors with a Senior Night to celebrate the elder players’ storied accomplishments.
The UT women’s basketball team held their Senior Night on Wednesday, Feb. 24 against Lynn University at the Martinez Center. Before their 64-44 thrashing of the Fighting Knights, the senior Spartans, alongside their parents, were recognized for their contributions and accomplishments.
Among those honored were forward Ellen Nurmi, guard Vanessa Sylvain, guard Juliana Cavallaro, forward Angela Alvarez, guard Candace Martino, and center Taylor McVey. All of these seniors have been major contributors on and off the court and have led the way to a strong 16-12 record and Sunshine State Conference tournament berth.
What’s special about this group of seniors is their distinct backgrounds and history in the game of basketball. Senior guard Ellen Nurmi, who is from Turku, Finland, had a prestigious international career before coming to UT. While growing up in Finland, Nurmi helped lead her club team to two national championships and competed on both the U16 and U18 Finnish National Teams.
After attending Makelanrinne High School, Nurmi had a brief stint at the University of Portland, before transferring to UT. While a Spartan, she’s been on the SSC Commissioner’s Honor Roll in both her sophomore and junior years and has averaged a consistent nine points per game and 36 percent three point percentage. Through UT’s system, she feels she’s become a more dynamic and complete player.
“Since joining UT’s basketball team, I’ve become more of a leader than I was before,” Nurmi said. “In addition, my game has expanded from just shooting threes to more of an all-around game offensively as well as defensively. I am blessed to have the opportunity to play here with my amazing teammates and coaches.”
Senior guard Vanessa Sylvain, of Brockton, Mass., attended Southeastern Tech High School where she won the Mayflower League MVP and was a 4-time Mayflower League All-Star. After graduating high school, she attended Dean College, before transferring to the University of Tampa after her sophomore year. Even though the transfer caused a culture shock for Sylvain, she learned a valuable lesson after transferring.
“I have become a lot calmer and disciplined since I transferred over to UT,” Sylvain said. “Being a part of [UT women’s basketball] has made me realize that basketball is a team sport. It’s shown me that everyone has a role on the team. Each and everyone’s role is what helps win ball games, not just one player.”
Senior guard Juliana Cavallaro is from Venice, Florida and attended Sarasota High School, just a short hour drive from Tampa. While attending high school, Cavallaro was a member of the National Honors Society and regularly volunteered at the Venice YMCA’s youth basketball camps.
As a four-year member of UT’s basketball team, Cavallaro has become a dependable workhorse. She averaged 10 points in just over 1,000 minutes as a freshman, was a member of the SSC Commissioner’s Honor Roll as a sophomore and earned First Team All-SSC honors as a junior. Today, she tallies 14 points per game and is shooting a tremendous 38 percent from three point land.
Through her four years, Cavallaro cites the tutelage of her mentors as a major factor in her development.
“Over the years, I have created relationships with my teammates that will last a lifetime,” Cavallaro said. “I am very fortunate to have met such great people through the opportunity I have had playing here at UT. I have played for my coaches now for four years and I am thankful for all they have done for me and the continued support they have shown.”
Candace Martino, a senior guard for UT, grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., attended both the University of Akron and the University of Delaware before transferring to UT her junior year. After recovering from an ACL tear, Martino has been a key piece to this veteran-laden team.
Of course, the team wouldn’t be complete without some reliable veteran bigs. Senior forward Angela Alvarez, who attended St. Andrew’s School, has been a four-year student at UTampa. As a Spartan, Alvarez has been on the SSC Commissioner’s Honor Roll once and has averaged six points and six rebounds per game while playing the power forward position.
Center Taylor McVey, who attended the University of Albany before transferring to UT, has been a member of the SSC All-Newcomer team and a member of the SSC Commissioner’s Honor Roll. She has averaged a solid seven points and five rebounds per game during her senior season.
For head coach Tom Jessee, it will be bittersweet to see so many familiar faces take the Martinez court for the last time.
“We have a special group of seniors that we are sad to see leave us,” Jessee said. “The seniors have been great leaders both on and off the floor, this group will be sorely missed.”
The senior-heavy Spartans begin their voyage through the SSC conference tournament on March 2 against the Barry Bucs.