TAMPA – While the individual accolades seven of the No.8-ranked University of Tampa’s players received on Thursday were appreciated, it didn’t take any focus away from the task the Spartans face on Friday night against Nova Southeastern in the semifinals of the Sunshine State Conference tournament at Pepin-Rood Stadium.
“We’ve had accolades, four guys All-American last year, and I think as a group we’ve been pretty humble about the things that come our way,” Spartans coach Adrian Bush said. “We recognize that it’s a great accomplishment for those guys, but in the big scheme of things we’re more worried about our group success as a team, and I think in the end if you’re to win a championship, that’s more important than any individual accolade.”
Ryan Thompson echoed his coach. Now a two-time SSC Defensive Player of the Year, the Spartans senior goalkeeper is more concerned with picking up silverware in December than in November.
“It’s good,” Thompson said, “but at the end of the day if you don’t have that ring, it doesn’t matter, it means nothing.”
The Spartans appeared relaxed as they worked out on Thursday afternoon. Bush said he thought that came from the experience the older players in his side had, and that their influence was rubbing off on the younger players in the squad.
“We’ve been in this situation the last three years we’ve been in the conference semifinal, the last two years, now three years, we’re going to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Bush said. “We returned every one of our guys that experienced the final four last year, so the experience is very good, I think it really helps the younger guys to stay relaxed, to maintain their focus on understanding what this really is. There’s a lot of times where you can get caught up in this stuff.”
And that’s the last thing the Spartans want to do against a Nova Southeastern squad that already pulled one upset. The No.6-seed Sharks defeated No.3-seed Lynn in a penalty shootout after the teams played to a 2-2 tie on Tuesday, and Thompson is expecting a tough battle.
“Any team on any given day can defeat any other team,” Thompson said, “so we personally know that Nova is a very good team, and we’re not going to take them lightly. We’re going to come and play them the same way we play every other team in this conference.”
In their previous meeting this season, the Spartans jumped on the Sharks early, Lister Warren scoring twice as Tampa romped to a 6-1 victory. Pascal Milien said that the biggest thing will be for the Spartans to come out as strongly as they did in that game to put their stamp on the game.
“The last time we played against them, we came out strong and ready to play, and that’s the reason why we won the game,” Milien said. “They didn’t expect that, they have a good team, but we came out as a team strong and ready to win, and that’s what happened. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be focused the same way. I’m pretty sure it’ll be a good game.”