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KISSIMMEE — The transition started with a little turbulence and a lot more losses than Berkeley Prep has grown accustomed to in recent years.
No matter: the Buccaneers have corrected themselves just in time for their customary title run.
Sidney Brown, the latest transcendent Berkeley Prep star, had a game-high 17 kills to lead the Bucs to a sweep of Jacksonville Episcopal in their Class 4A semifinal Friday at Silver Spurs Arena.
The 25-19, 25-14, 25-20 victory moves Berkeley Prep a step closer to the school’s fourth straight state championship and 16th overall, which would break a tie with Tampa Prep for the area record. The final is Saturday at 2:05.
“Being here is something we expect,” Brown said. “I think it’s all finally coming together.”
Addison Harden had 11 kills and two blocks, Jessica Silva had 10 kills and Maddie Alberdi had 45 assists in Berkeley Prep’s methodical domination of the Eagles. Brown, for example, had one fewer kill than Jacksonville Episcopal (20-7) had for the match.
The win sets up championship rematch at 2 p.m. today against Orlando Bishop Moore, which the Bucs have defeated in three straight title matches. But Bishop Moore returns as a heavy favorite: the Hornets are the state’s top-ranked team, Berkeley Prep lost more matches this year (11) than in the previous three (nine), and Bishop Moore was the winner in the teams’ season-opening contest.
“Being the underdog fires us up,” said Silva, a senior middle blocker. “We all want revenge and we want to show them how much we’ve improved.”
In their first final four appearance without program architect and longtime coach Randy Dagostino on the sideline, the Bucs showed they have almost completely recovered from early-season struggles.
Dagostino, who handed over the program to longtime assistant John Coup, has been a fixture on the bench throughout the season. But Dagostino missed Friday’s semifinal to watch daughter Mackenzie Dagostino, a former Bucs star and freshman setter at the University of Maryland, play against Florida State later that evening.
Before Berkeley Prep set out for Kissimmee, Randy Dagostino gave his old team a final order: win, so he could be there for the championship game.
He had nothing to worry about.
Trailing 14-13 in the first game after a sloppy start, the Bucs ran off seven straight points.
The Eagles never really recovered. With Alberdi setting up Brown and Silva and Logan Weldon over and over again, Jacksonville Episcopal simply couldn’t match the Bucs’ strength, precision and depth.
“We just haven’t had the experience of being here before,” said first-year Eagles coach Philippa Marks. “But when things go wrong, it starts to get in your head and tears apart your team confidence-wise.”
Meanwhile, the Bucs finally seem to be in synch after struggling earlier in the season to fill the roles of graduated All-Americans Dagostino and Jordan Burgess.
“Going into this year, people didn’t expect much from us,” Coup said. “I’m ecstatic to see how far we’ve come.”