TAMPA, Fla. — The University of Tampa volleyball team is aiming for the fourth national title in program history (2006, '14, '18). The Spartans are hosting the entire Elite 8, and they're the first school to play in the final part of the tournament on its home court. Head coach Chris Catanach said he wants to treat this week like one long road trip.
"We’re trying to make this a road trip by staying in the hotel," Catanach said before Wednesday's practice. "I know we’re not in our locker room. We’ll be in a different locker space. We had community engagement, then press conference, then practice. After practice, you gotta hustle back to the hotel and go to a meeting. Once that meeting’s over with, now we’re in tournament time."
One of the reasons why the Spartans (31-2) are on tournament time is the play of libero Claudia Rivera. Libero is more of a defensive position, but Rivera, a second-team all-American, is the glue that holds this team together.
"I feel like the chemistry we have this year is really good. We have a great team, great girls, great staff," Rivera said."Our first goal was to win the conference. Did that. Next, it was South Region. Just going one game at a time. But our goal is to keep getting every single goal we put at the beginning of the season."
"You can see the fire in her eyes, and it is the backbone of this team," added senior outside hitter Katie McKiel.
McKiel is one of six players from the 2018 team that won the national championship. She knows this week is the end of her college career, and she wants to make it count.
"They always tell you 'Play every game like it’s your last.' And now we’re at the point where it’s a reality," she said. "Every game could be your last [for seven upperclassmen]."
"We’ve just been embracing every moment. Every practice, every meeting in the locker room before practice. Every game," said graduate student Sorrel Houghton. "This opportunity is just awesome."
The Spartans will face the Augusta Jaguars Thursday at 7:30 p.m. from the Bob Martinez Athletic Center. The winner advances to the Final Four to face the winner of Hillsdale versus Gannon.