By ELENA DE ALFREDO, MAURICIO RICH
Athletic senior nights are a way to commemorate graduating players as they finish their final matches on UT turf.
The UT women’s basketball team honored their seniors on Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. at the Bob Martinez Athletics Center after a 63-41 victory against Lynn University’s Knights, and the men’s basketball team celebrated their seniors just before they overtook Lynn University with an 87-64 win later that same day.
Guard Elena De Alfredo was one of the three graduating seniors for the women’s team. She has the all-time three-shot point record in UT history and she is the first player to have a .858 average on free throws.
The Spanish-born transferred from University of Toledo as junior and played 33 games scoring 387 for the Spartans in her first season. De Alfredo and her team won the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) title last season scoring 14 points in the final against Florida Tech. Not only did she win the conference, but she was also awarded the all-newcomer team
This season, she became the fourth player in UT history to win the all-academic district honor, which requires a GPA of 3.3 or higher and constant athletic performance. She has made 108 three-point field goals, which makes her ninth in UT history to do so. De Alfredo is the fifth Spartan to have a 34.2 minutes average.
“This was the best time of my life,” De Alfredo said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity of being a part of the Spartan family and I will really miss Tampa. It is the best decision I have ever made.”
Senior guard Jenny Horvatinovic has played and started 22 games for the Spartans. She has a 7.4 score average per game this season, 1.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds. She is a two-year senior who transferred from Monmouth University in 2015.
Horvatinovic believes that the two most significant factors that she will miss are the campus and her teammates. “I have gotten very close to a lot of my teammates because those are the people that I spend most time with,” Horvatinovic said. “The school is beautiful and the campus is not like most other campuses.”
Senior forward Teresa Kucera started her college and basketball career in Seton Hall University. The German-born became a Spartan as a junior and appeared in 19 games her first season, scoring 32 points.
This season, Kucera has played 17 games with a 3.2 score average, 1.5 rebounds and 0.3 assists. She will try to make several different activities after her graduation. “I want to go home and spend time with my family that I haven’t lived with the last seven years,” Kucera said. “I’m going to have an internship at home. Then, I would love to travel and keep playing basketball too.”
Spartans’ head coach Tom Jessee says that it is very hard to say goodbye to his graduating players after two and three years of coaching them and winning the SSC tournament last year. “We built a family here,” Jessee said. “You work hard to build that relationship, but we are proud of all of them, they go on to work and get jobs so that is the silver lining.”
The Spartans culminated their regular season No. 5 in the standings with a 11-7 record in SSC tournament after the win against Lynn. After this result, the Spartans will travel to Fort Lauderdale to face Nova Southeastern Sharks, who finished No. 4 in the standings, for the SSC quarterfinals on March 1.
The men’s team honored their seniors, point guard Matt Johnson, small forward Austin Rettig and center Marcelo Ruediger, with a small celebration prior to their 4 p.m. game.
“Our seniors are looking forward to the conference tournament,” assistant men’s basketball coach Justin Pecka said. “All three seniors are great kids and great teammates—we are going to miss them greatly.”
Johnson averages 3.5 point per game (ppg), 1.6 rebounds per game (rpg) and 5.2 assists per game (apg). He has been the facilitator of Tampa’s offense, ranking fourth in all-time assists (428), and fifth in assists average (4.3) in UT men’s basketball program history.
The 5’9” point guard spent his college career at UT as he arrived in 2013. His college career brought him the opportunity to play in front of loyal fans who supported him no matter what, Johnson said. For him, wearing a UT uniform was very special and is something that he will miss the most.
“UT means the world to me—it’s my second home and a place that will forever be in my heart,” Johnson said. “It gave me the college experience that young student-athletes dream of and I am forever grateful for them and for that.”
From his hometown Dallas, Texas, Rettig made his way to UT where spent his college career. The senior small forward came to Tampa in 2012 and he sat out the 2013-2014 season with a medical redshirt due to a shoulder injury.
Rettig’s athleticism, combined with his ability to score, made him an important component for the Spartans’ playing system. The fifth-year senior is averaging this season 12.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg and he is also dishing 1.4 apg.
The 6’5” small forward is also ranked fourth as an all-time three-point field goals made in UT history (176), fourth in three-point field goals attempted (483), sixth in three-point field goal percentage (.364) and eighth in minutes with a total of 3286.
Outside of basketball, Rettig found UT a way to share common experiences with his friends to bond and unify underneath. Also, the university slogan, “stand as one”, unifies everything that Tampa mean’s for him.
“The people is what I am going to miss the most, no doubt,” Rettig said. “I have been blessed to have met so many people through school, basketball people through school and Greek life—this environment has been great to be a part of over the years.”
Ruediger, born in Natal, Brazil, transferred from Utah State University Eastern. The 6’10” center has brought size to the program along with rebounding capacity. Even though the Brazilian native didn’t get much playing time this year, he has been very important part for UT’s preparation for opponents, Pecka said. Ruediger is averaging 1.0 ppg and 1.7 rpg in a total of nine games played.
For Ruediger, the two things that stand out the most out of his years at Tampa are the friends he made and the college life. “UT was one of the best times of my life,” Ruediger said. “I had great two years here and I am going to miss it a lot—I am thankful for the opportunity I have had.”
The Spartans finished their regular season with a 10-8 conference record, after pulling out this last win on their senior night. UT is looking forward to playing Palm Beach Atlantic University on March 1, for their first game of the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) Tournament. Prior to the SSC quarterfinals game, the Sailfish swept the Spartans over regular season games, both home and away. Playing defense and rebounding along with executing the offense better are the things the Spartans will need to do to beat this team, Pecka said.
Even though the results are not exactly the ones expected throughout the season, the Spartans are ready to take onto this SSC tournament match-up. “Either way when we get into a tournament setting, we know we are capable of winning three games,” Pecka said. “It is definitely our goal to win the conference tournament—if we don’t win our season is over, we need to win to advance to the NCAA tournament.”