TAMPA — The coach chasing his 800th win Tuesday night walked in the opposite way of his huddle.
One of the biggest lessons Berkeley Prep coach Randy Dagostino has taught in 28 years running one of the most successful high school programs in the country has been the value of preparation.
His greatest pride in the sport is that he has been able to take his players and have them ready to excel at the college level.
Berkeley’s gym was packed for the Bucs’ regular-season opener with Palm Harbor University. A crowd of 40 students gathered in the corner, some covered in blue body paint.
Not your normal volleyball match. Not your normal night. But Dagostino is not your normal coach.
And when his team made up of four new starters dropped its first game to the ’Canes, Dagostino stepped away from the huddle and let seniors Jordan Burgess and Mackenzie Dagostino — future Division I players — do the talking.
“We just said that it wasn’t acceptable to let the moment get a hold of us,” Burgess said. “It was a big match and a big crowd, so we needed to stay stronger mentally. There’s going to be tougher situations down the road for us.”
And like most Dagostino-coached teams, these Buccaneers, ranked No. 3 in the nation by MaxPreps, adapted to the moment — and rallied to give their coach his landmark win with a four-game victory, 26-28, 25-18, 25-17, 25-11.
“Doing something like this and reaching a milestone like this gets you thinking about how long you’ve been doing this,” Dagostino said. “When you start thinking about the length of it all, you start thinking about some of the players you coached and now they’re coaches or I’m about to coach their kids. It’s very nostalgic in that respect and very important.”
Mackenzie Dagostino, the coach’s daughter, ended the match with a kill that slammed through the back row and prompted a celebration.
“I wanted that one pretty badly,” she said. “The 800th win definitely was special to us, especially with me being a senior. It’s different than before. This is the last big win I can share with him. I’m glad I was able to do it on our homecourt.”
After the victory, Dagostino was given the game ball by Berkeley athletic director Bobby Reinhart, and the team brought out a display of peanut butter cupcakes — Dagostino’s favorite — that spelled out 800.
It was a win that will help Berkeley in its goal of winning its 15th state title in November — the previous 14 have been under Dagostino — as well as a third straight state crown for this senior class.
“I’m a coach, so I start thinking about some of the things we’re not doing as well as we could be doing rather than thinking about whether this was going to be the 800th or 900th or whatever-hundredth,” Randy Dagostino said. “We needed to play better and we came around and did.”
Burgess, who is headed to Stanford, led the Bucs with 25 kills, 19 digs and seven blocks. Mackenzie Dagostino, a Maryland commit, had 15 kills, 59 assists and 12 digs. Sophomore Sidney Brown added 15 kills.
PHU senior Sammy Eichelberger led the ’Canes with 14 kills, while junior Lee Nielsen added 12 kills. Libero Caitlyn Kovach anchored a stellar PHU defense with 25 digs.
The ’Canes were one point from losing the first game at 24-20 and faced game point six times before rallying and quieting the crowd.
But Berkeley recovered, taking over midway through the second game and never looking back.
“It was pressure, but I think it was really good for us because with this crowd some of our young players had the jitters when they first started,” Burgess said. “It’s just a good feeling to get that out of the way.”
And even on the opposing bench, ninth-year PHU coach Tara Kuk appreciated the moment.
“I’ve been coaching 11 years and Randy was coaching when I was playing, so you can do the math,” Kuk said. “That’s amazing. To think of the lives he’s impacted with these girls, it’s just so exciting. They’ll always remember playing high school volleyball and they’ll always remember playing for Randy.”