MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
TAMPA — Berkeley Prep’s boys had a simple, lofty goal heading into this season: They wanted to be perfect.
As difficult as it sounds, the Bucs managed to finish their dual-meet season 9-0. Thanks to a talented senior class’ leadership, a great deal of depth and an impressively versatile squad, Berkeley is heading into districts with an unblemished record.
“I think we just kept the goal in mind: undefeated. We work hard now, we’ll get rewarded later,” senior Andreas Hatoum said. “You don’t want to look back on an almost-undefeated season.”
“It’s kind of going back to where Berkeley was in the mid-’90s there, when we were really strong,” coach Kevin Rosepapa added. “It’s really nice to see the program get back on track and be city champs again.”
But the Bucs’ list of goals didn’t end with the regular season. They want to come out on top at districts and regionals before improving on last year’s 12th-place finish at state with a top-10 standing.
It may have looked easy at times, but Berkeley’s journey to its first unbeaten dual-meet season since 1997 wasn’t always smooth sailing. After winning its first five meets by an average of 71.6 points, the team squeaked by Plant 149-145 on Sept. 21 without senior Alex Bandes, a loss that would have cost 20 points, Rosepapa estimated, had his teammates not stepped up to the challenge.
The Bucs also fought through an incredibly difficult “push week,” winning the Tampa Bay Classic on Oct. 2, handing Jesuit its second dual-meet loss in 13 years on Oct. 6 and pulling out a 173-125 win over Lake Highland Prep two days later. Without question, the team’s senior leaders said, that was the defining part of the season — if not their careers at Berkeley.
“We were training for that week. We had that week in mind,” Will Miller said. “We knew what it was going to be like. We just needed to be ready.”
Miller, Hatoum and the Bandes brothers — Alex and Zack — have been a big part of that preparation, as the coaches say this group of seniors has provided the best leadership for the Bucs in recent memory. Miller noted that he and his classmates started at the beginning of the season, running through the basics with the young swimmers, and that has created a surplus of versatile depth.
“With any great team, the pride comes from the players. The coach can say, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that,’ but if the kids don’t buy into it, it’s only words,” Rosepapa said. “And these kids truly buy into what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s about a team.”
In addition to being his most tightly knit group at Berkeley, Rosepapa said this team appeared to be having as much fun as any squad he has been a part of. His swimmers didn’t struggle to find the main reason that’s true.
“The more you win, the more fun you have,” senior Zack Bandes said. “We’re just taking the momentum and keep on going.”
Swimming: Oct. 28, 9 a.m. at Bobby Hicks Pool
Diving: Oct. 27, 2:30 p.m. at Bobby Hicks Pool
Teams: Bloomingdale, Brandon, Freedom, Gaither, Newsome, Plant City, Riverview, Tampa Bay Tech, Wharton
At a glance: Led by sophomore Barbara Caraballo, Newsome’s girls are looking to make a postseason run following an impressive year. The Wolves finished third among some of the best teams in the state at the FSPA meet in Orlando. Caraballo won the 200 IM (2:05.19) and 100 breast (1:06.02). Look for Newsome to also find success on the boys side. Individually, Wharton features one of the state’s best in Blair Kuethe, who swam an All-America time in the 200 free at state last year.
Swimming: Oct. 30, 9 a.m. at the Greater Palm Harbor YMCA
Diving: Oct. 29, 10 a.m. at the Greater Palm Harbor YMCA
Teams: Alonso, Chamberlain, Clearwater, Countryside, East Lake, Largo, Northeast, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park, Plant, Seminole
At a glance: This again figures to be a tougher division thanks to the recent addition of strong programs like Northeast, Plant and Seminole. But after nine straight boys titles and three straight for the girls, it’s hard to pick against Palm Harbor U. Hillsborough’s best hope to dethrone the Hurricanes, at least on the girls side, lies with a talented young Plant squad that finished seventh at the FSPA meet.
Swimming: Oct. 30, 9 a.m. at AHN Pool
Diving: Oct. 27, 1 p.m. at AHN Pool
Teams: Armwood, Blake, Durant, East Bay, Hillsborough, Holy Names (girls), Jefferson, Jesuit (boys), King, Leto, Sickles, Spoto
At a glance: Jesuit is seeking its 13th straight district title, and with a group like Chris Swanson, John Simon and Chase Goodwin leading the way, coach Bill Shaffer’s squad again looks like a lock to take first place. Sickles is loaded with individual talent on both sides, including star sprinter Katie Cook and the versatile Andrew Howard, but the Gryphons likely won’t be able to match the depth of Jesuit/Holy Names. The Jaguars won their second straight district championship last year.
Swimming: Oct. 28, 9 a.m. at Tampa Prep
Diving: Oct. 27, 11 a.m. at Tampa Prep
Teams: Academy at the Lakes, Bayshore Christian (boys), Berkeley Prep, Calvary Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic, Steinbrenner, Lennard (girls), Middleton, Robinson, Seffner Christian, Strawberry Crest, Tampa Catholic, Tampa Prep
At a glance: Berkeley Prep has made it clear all year that its goals include first-place finishes at districts and regionals before making a deep run at state, and there’s little reason to doubt the Bucs given their undefeated season. On the girls side, Tampa Prep cruised through its schedule except for a bump in the road against Plant. Coming off a sixth-place finish at the FSPA meet and a big win over Berkeley, the Terps are led by junior Rebecca Werdine, who enters the postseason hoping to add to the four state medals she has already earned.