KISSIMMEE — In each of the first two sets in Tuesday's 4A state semifinal, Berkeley Prep forced set point against a Lake Highland Prep team it had seen — and beaten — once before this season.
Both times, the Buccaneers — who lost 24-26, 24-26, 25-23, 22-25 — didn't make the play they needed, and it ultimately resulted in the end of their pursuit of the program's 16th state title.
"That's the disappointing part. We could have easily won that match in three," coach John Coup said. "It was a dogfight every time we played these guys. And it just came down to who made the play."
Berkeley Prep beat the Highlanders 3-1 when the teams played Aug. 30 in the Bucs' second regular-season game. But that time, Vanessa Freire didn't have an afternoon quite like she did Tuesday at Silver Spurs Arena.
Freire was hot all match, particularly in the later sets. Coup said the Highlanders were able to keep the middle blocker involved by passing well and maintaining solid ball control. She finished with 24 kills and a .647 hitting percentage.
"I saw that stat line, and I was like 'Wow,' " Coup said. "That's a stat line you don't see very often."
In comparison, Berkeley's go-to attacker was limited at big moments by the Lake Highland defense. Outside hitter Sidney Brown, a Stanford commit, finished with 21 kills. It's the hits she was stopped from making, however, that cost the Bucs.
In the second set, the Highlanders (23-8) blocked a hard-hit Brown ball to tie the score at 24. On the very next play, they did it again. Brown ended with a .200 hitting percentage.
After winning the third set to stay alive, the Bucs went down early, and fast, in the fourth. Berkeley Prep (22-8) trailed by as much as 21-8 in the final stretch, but the Bucs, not ready to see their season end, scored 12 of the next 14 points.
"It was spectacular," Coup said about his team's late comeback. "We just started that cycle a little late."
For some of the Bucs, it was their third or even fourth appearance in the final four. Brown admitted she never felt less nervous going into a big match.
But sometimes, even the best preparations don't yield the desired result.
"It just happened that they got the points that mattered this time and we got them last time," Brown said, "which is frustrating as players because you think it could have easily gone our way."