TAMPA — This wasn't supposed to be the season when Berkeley Prep added its 13th state championship, since the Buccaneers would rely heavily on the play of two freshmen.
But those freshmen — outside hitter Jordan Burgess and setter/opposite hitter Mackenzie Dagostino — are now big reasons Berkeley Prep is just two wins from another state title. The Buccaneers (27-2) face Miami Florida Christian (28-2) in Friday's Class 3A state semifinal at the Lakeland Center.
"There's no way we are here without them," Berkeley coach Randy Dagostino said.
And now, as they trek to Lakeland, there's no mention that they are freshmen.
"We came in here and knew we were going to be able to start and we took that as an opportunity," Burgess said. "We didn't look at ourselves as young players just because with the position we're in we can't look at ourselves as freshmen."
Always around the game
Since she was able to walk, Dagostino remembers being around the volleyball court, never far from her father, the longtime Berkeley coach.
"I remember peppering with my brother at states," Mackenzie Dagostino said. "I've been around it my whole life, so I guess everyone knew I would be a volleyball player."
Maybe because of that, Mackenzie is an incredibly well-rounded player. She grew up having a powerful left hand, but also the touch to be a setter (her 4.8 assists per game are second on the team). She's also the team's vocal spark plug.
"On the court she's an amazing cheerleader," Burgess said. "She's always there for you."
Said her father: "Mackenzie just turns it on during competition. I guess that's just the comfort level she has being around the sport for so long as an observer."
A bright future
Berkeley's top outside hitter has played the game only two years.
But heading into the state semis, Burgess leads the Buccaneers with 3.7 kills a game, including a pair of 27-kill matches in two of Berkeley's biggest matchups, Lake Highland Prep and Orlando Timber Creek.
"She just a very inwardly intense individual," Randy Dagostino said. "She has incredibly lofty goals and certainly from what we've seen this year, she's probably going to reach a lot of them."
Her coach said Burgess is just beginning to tap into her potential, but he has seen enough to say she is the best natural passer he has ever had at Berkeley.
"When she came in she was very raw," said Mackenzie, who played with Burgess with the Tampa Bay Juniors 15 Black club team over the summer, "but she developed really fast."