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Three times won

Plant, Berkeley Prep and Bayshore Christian capture a championship.

SCOTT PURKS
Published November 16, 2003

LAKELAND - Sure, Plant High had Sarah Kirkwood, who just might be the best player in the state.

But make no mistake, Plant did not sweep Saturday's Class 5A state final match with Kirkwood alone.

There was a lot more that went into this.

There was 5-foot-3 Taylor Russo who, before August, had never set. Then there was Maggie Ramm, who was converted from a defensive specialist to an outside hitter, and middle blocker Lauren Taylor, who had to learn a defensive role on the back row.

Among other things, it was coach Kimi Hellenberg's job to make it work within a few months.

By Saturday, it came together with inspiration - especially after trailing Fort Myers 24-19 in the first game.

That's when Plant took it to another level, winning eight of the next nine points, taking the first game 27-25 and sucking the wind out of the Green Wave.

"That hurt, you bet it did," Fort Myers middle blocker Lauren Stockman-Puder said. "Being up (five points at game point) and not closing it out was a big difference."

With the 6-foot Kirkwood hammering down spike after spike - often over Fort Myers' formidable block - Hellenberg said Plant (27-3) hit a rhythm.

They attacked well (Kirkwood had a match-high 24 kills), set precisely (Russo had 41 assists), blocked tough, served sharply (eight aces) and dug up just about everything.

"It wasn't that we played poorly," Fort Myers coach Stephanie Martin said. "Because I think we played well. (Plant) just played great."

The title is Plant's third in as many years, and Kirkwood has contributed to each.

"Before the year started coach (Hellenberg) asked me if I thought we could win the state title again and I said, "Yes! Yes, we can,"' Kirkwood said. "This team deserves a lot of credit because players did have to switch to some very important positions and learn them in a short time.

"Every single week we had something to improve on and every week we did improve."

Class 2A

LAKELAND - Berkeley Prep sat on it for a year. It lived with the thought and embarrassment of losing in the state final to P.K. Yonge. If you're a Buccaneer, that's the kind of thing that sends you into the next season with more to prove, especially when it was a match you thought you should have won.

Now it's P.K. Yonge's turn to feel a little pain.

Berkeley Prep put on a remarkable display of defense and hit the Blue Wave in all the right places, running off with a 25-23, 25-22, 25-18 victory in the state championship match Saturday. The title is the 12th for Berkeley, bringing the Bucs closer to Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons (17) and Tampa Prep (14) in the all-time column. More importantly, it snapped a Bucs championship drought dating to 1999, the longest stretch without a title. Even more important than that, though, was who it came against.

"Every day at practice we talked about losing last year," said setter Eden Ramos, among two captains who approached coach Randy Dagostino about incorporating a blue wave in T-shirts earlier this season as a reminder of the 9-15, 15-9, 15-9 loss last November.

Cally Stohlbach said: "We wanted people to know that volleyball at Berkeley Prep is as good as it ever was."

Dagostino says it may be better. The 20-year coach, who won his 600th game this season, said this team improved more than any other he's guided. A 30-2 record, No.1 ranking in Class 2A and No.26 standing nationally (according to prepvolleyball.com) would seem to back him up.

So would the commments from P.K. Yonge coach Perry McDonald. "They flat out brought their "A' game," McDonald said. "They were definitely the state champions tonight. There is no room to imagine any other scenario the way they played."

- MIKE READLING

Class A

LAKELAND - Bayshore Christian accomplished something Saturday at theLakeland Center few teams have done.

After being dominated two games by Orangewood Christian, the Faith Warriors survived a match point to take the third 29-27.

Then, as Orangewood tightened, Bayshore won the final games 25-16, 15-11 to take home its second state title.

"Unbelievable," Orangewood coach Diane Pruim said. "It's hard to believe how (Bayshore) hung in there.

"Hard to believe."

Bayshore (30-2) admitted to stomachaches and praying but never lost the faith, not even at match point.

"It was tense," Bayshore's only senior, Katie Mitcham, said of Game 3. "I was saying, "Please, please don't let any balls fall. Please make perfect passes. Please make perfect hits."'

And for the most part, they did.

By the end of Game 4, the momentum had swung.

"Normally, I don't say this or even think this during a match because I never want to jinx anything," Mitcham said. "But after we won Game 4, I knew we were going to win the match.

"I felt it. I knew it."

Orangewood (28-4) had similar feelings after winning the first two games 25-20, 25-22 and getting to match point.

"Our game plan was working just like we thought it would," Pruim said. "And then we were right there. All we needed was just one more point. Just one more.

"You can think about all the points that could have gone either way. One serve we missed. One ball we let drop. Just one point One point from the state championship."

When Bayshore took an 8-2 lead in the fourth, Orangewood admitted to feeling the strain.

"I think we were getting frustrated with each other, and then we were frustrated with ourselves," setter Rachel Miller said. "I don't think we attacked like we did in the first two games."

Bayshore Christian coach Melanie Humenansky, who guided Bayshore to its first state title in 1998, said it was exciting to think about what could be ahead.

"Hopefully we'll be back again soon."

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