FORT MYERS — Berkeley Prep coach Randy Dagostino has been around long enough to know that in order for his team to reach its goal of a Class 3A state title, the Buccaneers would have to beat a formidable opponent on the road.
When the Buccaneers team buses pulled into Bishop Verot High School for the region semifinal match against the undefeated Vikings on Tuesday night, they were greeted by blaring music, a raucous crowd and black-and-gold painted faces.
Five roller-coaster games later, the Bucs left Fort Myers lucky to escape with a win — having passed their toughest test of grit yet — after they survived 15-25, 25-20, 25-20, 22-25, 15-12.
"My heart was racing so much I'm about to pass out," senior setter Christina Theofilos said.
"I think our youth got to us tonight," Dagostino said. "I love finishing, but it's always nice to start really sharp and we didn't start sharp at all."
There were times when Berkeley (26-2) was on the ropes — the most critical when the Bucs were down 8-4 in the fifth game.
Before that, they lost the match's first game handily. After taking the second, they dropped the first three points of the third before recovering. And after trading points in Game 4 to a 19-19 tie, Berkeley let that game get away.
"I think it was a wakeup call to all of us," Theofilos said. "After Game 1, we looked at each other and we were like, 'Do you guys want to go to states? You're the 17th-ranked team in the country. Prove it.' "
Down 8-4 in the fifth game, Berkeley showed its mettle. With the game tied 11-11, freshman outside hitter Jordan Burgess, who had a team-high 15 kills, gave the Bucs the lead with a kill and a service ace.
"I think it shows a lot about our perseverance as a team and the way we can overcome our obstacles, and it shows that we never give up," Burgess said.
Mackenzie Dagostino had nine kills and team highs with 22 assists and seven service points, while junior middle hitter Lindsay Young had 11 kills and Theofilos has 21 assists.
The Vikings' last loss came to Berkeley in an August preseason match, and Bishop Verot (22-1) hadn't been taken to five games all season.
"That added a little more fuel to the fire, even though it was in the preseason," Vikings coach Wynn DePasquale said.