LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Tampa (34-1) captured the 2014 NCAA Division II National Title, finishing the season on a 30-game winning streak after a 3-0 sweep (25-14, 25-20, 25-21) of Southwest Minnesota State (26-10).
The 2014 National Title marks the second in Tampa’s program history, and the first since 2006. Both titles came under the guidance of head coach Chris Catanach, who has stood at the helm of the program since 1984.Although SMSU handed Tampa its only loss of the year earlier this season, the No. 1 Spartans hit the court thirsty for victory. Since that loss on Sept. 12, Tampa had gone on a 29-0 run before meeting the Mustangs again in the season’s final matchup.
The Spartans took the first point of the match on a Mustang service error, but Southwest Minnesota State quickly rebounded for three consecutive points to take an early lead. What followed was a battle on both sides of the court, until back-to-back kills from Megan Heffron and Jessica Wagner gave the Spartans an 8-6 lead. With the points continuing to fall in Tampa’s favor, the Mustangs were forced to call their first timeout of the day trailing 11-7. From then on, the Spartans dominated the scoreboard, going on an offensive run that would continue for the remainder of the set. Despite the Mustangs’ best efforts, Tampa took the set by a 25-14 score.
The second set featured an early Tampa lead again, and the Mustangs were forced to use both timeouts early. Despite a strong lead, SMSU gained its footing offensively and clawed back into contention. Tampa’s top-ranked offense outlasted the Mustangs efforts and took home a 25-20 second set win.
In the third set, while trailing 14-13, back-to-back kills from Heffron and Wagner put the Spartans ahead for the first time in the set. The Mustangs then came back to tie the set three times, taking back the lead at 21-20. After a quick timeout, All-Americans Berkley Whaley and Marissa Lisenbee blasted back-to-back kills to recapture the lead at 22-21. From then on, the No. 1 ranked Spartans never surrendered the lead, as AVCA Player of the Year Whaley blasted a kill to take home the final point of the set and claim a 3-0 victory.
The All-American Wagner led the Spartans in attacking, registering seven kills at a .667 clip. She also recorded attack averages over .850 during the Spartans’ quarterfinal and semifinal contests, and those performances earned her the title of the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Offensively, Lisenbee led the Spartans with 12 kills, finishing the sweep with an attack average of .440. Whaley followed her lead closely with 11 of her own, and both juniors were also named to the All-Tournament team.
In addition, Heffron was an offensive catalyst, recording nine timely kills and one assist. All-Americans Meagan Burke and Kaley Patrick also registered kills in the victory, tallying two and one, respectively.
As per usual, the guiding force behind the Spartans’ offensive success was the senior, Patrick, who picked up 31 assists on the evening and led Tampa defensively, with ten digs. Patrick was also named to the All-Tournament team, and she finishes her career with over 4,800 assists, which ranks fourth all-time in the Spartans’ record books.
Collectively, the Spartans attacked for a .308 average in the historic victory, recording 42 kills and 38 assists.
From the back row, Heffron and freshman libero Molly McAlvany followed Patrick’s lead with nine kills apiece. From the net, however, Burke led the way, tallying five block assists to lead all players in the match. Wagner and Lisenbee each registered four, and the Spartans finished the game with 18 total block assists.
As a whole, Tampa’s defensive efforts held the Mustangs to just a .139 attack average, forcing 23 SMSU errors along the way. Nearly every Spartans player recorded a dig or a block assist in the triumph.
The Spartans wrap up the 2014 season with a National Championship, a South Region Championship, and a Sunshine State Conference Championship. The Spartans also earned five All-Region selections, one South Region Coach of the Year award, five All-American honors, one AVCA Player of the Year award, and one South Region Player of the Year honor. In addition, Tampa garnered seven All-Sunshine State Conference selections, one SSC Player of the Year award, and six Sunshine State Conference Player of the Week awards.
In terms of national spotlight, the Spartans enjoyed ten consecutive weeks ranked as the nation’s top team, and never ranked lower than No. 2 throughout the year.