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Berkeley reaches final but can't slow Plant

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 22, 2002

ORLANDO -- Plant zipped through the Orlando Bishop Moore Invitational tournament, beating some of the state's most reputable programs, not the least of which was hometown powerhouse Berkeley Prep.

The Panthers beat the Buccaneers 15-3, 15-10 for the championship Saturday, which was a surprise only because the Bucs made it that far. This season's Buccaneers are younger and less experienced than last season's squad that was a region finalist. Berkeley Prep is rebuilding with two seniors, Susanna Leffers and Aline Baker, and a majority of sophomores.

Still, the all-Tampa final was a good show for any area fans who made the drive. The Panthers (11-0), as usual, dominated with their unparalleled passing and powerful attacks. The Buccaneers were an impressive underdog, surprising Plant with offensive outbursts from freshmen Janet Okogbaa (eight kills) and Jessica Glover (five).

"It was experience versus inexperience," Berkeley Prep coach Randy Dagostino said. "Plant played at a much faster pace than us, and we were pretty shellshocked after the first game."

Plant junior outside hitter Sarah Kirkwood led the Panthers in kills Friday and Saturday, collecting 15 in the championship match. Senior setter Emily Kirkwood had 25 assists against Berkeley Prep and was named tournament MVP.

"We really rolled through the teams, and I think we're playing a lot more consistent this year," Emily Kirkwood said. "Everybody's contributing equally, and our middle blockers are playing awesome right now."

Durant, the only other Hillsborough County team in the tournament, also made a good run by placing fifth. The defending Class 5A state champion struggled in pool play, losing to Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons, but defeated DeLand 15-8, 15-2 in its final bracket match.

"We're doing okay this season," Cougars outside hitter Danielle Herndon said.

"We're pretty much the same team as last year, but we need to work on following through with points."

Durant middle blocker Nicole Le Blanc was named to the all-tournament team, as was Plant's Amy Rumore and Jessica Smith. Berkeley Prep's Leffers and junior outside hitter Cally Stolbach were also named.

The three teams might face one another again next month in the Berkeley Premier Invitational and Tampa Bay Invitational tournaments.

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