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Victories don't come as easy now

Teams like Berkeley Prep and Tampa Prep no longer can waltz to state titles like they used to.

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000


TAMPA -- Randy Dagostino can't remember the opponent nor the date. He just knows that parity reached Florida volleyball about four years ago.

"It was just there," the Berkeley Prep coach said. "There were teams that, traditionally, we were going to have to show up and play, but the outcome was going to be pretty much a secure one.

"But that secure feeling has left."

As the post-season approaches, there are more good teams in the state than at any time in recent memory.

No longer are teams such as Tampa Prep, with 13 state championships, and Berkeley Prep, with 11 in 16 years, perceived as runaway favorites.

In Class 3A alone, as many as six teams have a legitimate chance to win the state title. Berkeley Prep has a shot, but so does Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons, Orlando Bishop Moore, Sarasota Cardinal Mooney, Orlando Lake Highland Prep and Jacksonville Bolles.

"I'd say this is by far the strongest class that's ever existed in the state of Florida that I can remember," said Dagostino, who has been around Florida volleyball for 18 years.

More kids are playing volleyball year-round than ever before, Dagostino said. Just as important, those players are being taught by more knowledgeable coaches, including a number of female coaches who played high school and/or club ball in Florida.

Tampa Prep coach Paul McAdoo said an increase in overall talent across the state made more teams competitive.

"At the top of every division, there's a cluster of pretty good teams across the state," McAdoo said.

"In years past, volleyball was dominated by one or two teams."

Berkeley Prep will get its first test Monday when it plays Tampa Catholic in the opening round of the Class 3A, District 9 tournament at Academy of the Holy Names. The winner will meet St. Petersburg Catholic in Tuesday's semifinal. Berkeley Prep won 16 of 26 matches on the court but was forced to forfeit all of them after the Florida High School Activities Association ruled the team used an ineligible player. Dagostino said an appeals meeting is scheduled for Nov. 9.

Berkeley Prep remained eligible for post-season play but dropped from a possible first seed to No. 6 for the district tournament. However, Dagostino isn't discouraged.

"So far, we're injury free, and I think we're playing at a pretty high level," the coach said. "Some kids are playing their very best volleyball right now, which is always good to say going into this."

Despite injuries to three starters, Tampa Prep (20-8) defeated Keswick on Thursday to clinch the Bay Conference championship.

Right side hitter Catherine Zidow (ankle sprain) saw limited action as a defensive specialist. Outside hitter Morgan Mander (ankle sprain) and middle hitter Jillian Hahn (mononucleosis) did not play.

McAdoo hopes to have the players back for the Class 2A, District 11 tournament, which begins Tuesday at Keswick. Tampa Prep, which earned an opening-round bye, will play the Northside Christian-Indian Rocks Christian winner in Thursday's semifinal. "We're getting healthier," McAdoo said. "I'm pretty sure we're going to be healthier next week, but we're not going to be 100 percent."

Tampa Prep snapped Marist's (Ga.) 90-match winning steak at the Southeast Challenge in Birmingham, Ala. Tampa Prep also counts Berkeley Prep and Durant among its victories.

Tampa Prep and Berkeley Prep are not the only county teams expected to fare well in post-season play.

Durant (6A), Plant (5A) and Bayshore Christian (A) also enter the district tournaments ranked in the state poll.

"Volleyball in Florida is getting better and better," McAdoo said. "And it makes everybody better."

District volleyball

6A, District 7 at Gaither

WHEN: Tuesday -- Gaither vs. Sickles, 6:30; Durant vs. Bloomingdale, 8. Thursday -- Championship, 7.

OUTLOOK: Defending state champion Durant should run away with this. Sickles and Gaither appear to be in a neck-and-neck race for second place.

* * *

5A, District 11 at Wharton

WHEN: Monday -- Riverview vs. King, 4:30; Brandon vs. Chamberlain 6; Hillsborough vs. Wharton, 7:30. Tuesday -- Plant vs. Riverview/King winner, 6:30; Brandon/Chamberlain winner vs. Hillsborough/Wharton winner, 8. Thursday -- Championship match, 7.

OUTLOOK: Plant is the cream of this crop and has a chance to make a run at a Class 5A state championship. The runner-up finisher is a big question mark.

* * *

5A, District 8 at Lakeland Jenkins

WHEN: Tuesday -- Lakeland vs. Haines City, 6; Lake Region vs. Plant City, 7:30; Wednesday -- Lakeland Jenkins vs. Lake Region-Plant City winner; Thursday -- Championship, 7 p.m.

OUTLOOK: Plant City is 1-11 and 0-8 in district play. If the Raiders somehow win this district, it would rank right up there with the biggest upsets of the millennium. Jenkins is 16-5 and 8-0 in the district.

* * *

4A, District 10 at Blake

WHEN: Tuesday -- Armwood vs. Blake, 6:30; Robinson vs. Jefferson, 8; Wednesday -- Tampa Bay Tech vs. Armwood-Blake winner, 6:30; Leto vs. Robinson-Jefferson winner, 8; Thursday -- Championship, 7.

OUTLOOK: Tampa Bay Tech has led this district all season, but that doesn't mean the Titans are prohibitive favorites. Just about anybody could rise up and win this.

* * *

3A, District 9 at Academy of the Holy Names

WHEN: Monday -- Osceola vs. Academy, 6; Tampa Catholic vs. Berkeley Prep, 7:30; Tuesday -- Clearwater Central Catholic vs. Academy-Osceola winner, 6; St. Petersburg Catholic vs. TC-Berkeley Prep, 7:30; Thursday -- Championship, 7.

OUTLOOK: The Florida High School Activities Association ruled last week that Berkeley Prep had to forfeit all of its matches this season for using an ineligible player, a ruling the Bucs are appealing. The forfeits caused the brackets to be shuffled. No matter, Berkeley should win this district with relative ease.

* * *

2A, District 11 at Keswick Christian

WHEN: Tuesday -- Indian Rocks Christian vs. Northside Christian, 7; Thursday -- Shorecrest vs. Keswick, 5:30; Tampa Prep vs. Indian Rocks-Northside winner, 7; Friday -- Championship, 7.

OUTLOOK: Tampa Prep has proved it is back. The Terrapins have some injuries, but unlike last year, they have depth. Keswick and Shorecrest will battle for second.

A, DISTRICT 8

at Seminole Presbyterian

WHEN: Tuesday -- Temple Heights vs. Riverhills; Thursday -- Seminole Presbyterian vs. Tampa Baptist winner, 5:30; Bayshore vs. Temple Heights-Riverhills winner, 7; Friday -- Championship, 7.

OUTLOOK: Bayshore Christian, led by high-flying Erica Womack, should win going away. The Faith Warriors, who have been to state the past two seasons, will get their biggest test from Seminole Presbyterian, probably in the championship match.

- Compiled by Mike Readling.

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