TAMPA — It wasn't that Berkeley Prep played poorly in Saturday's final of the Berkeley Premier.
The Bucs, in fact, played pretty well.
The trouble was that their final opponent, Georgia's Walton High, is ranked the No. 1 volleyball team in the country by MaxPreps.
Turns out that Walton High (16-0 without a loss of a game in any match) was much taller, quicker and more polished than any team the Bucs have seen this year, or for that matter, in many years.
That fact made Saturday's end result — a 25-16, 25-18 Walton victory — a little easier to swallow, and in some ways, encouraging.
"I think we learned a lot from playing (Walton)," Berkeley Prep coach Mackenzie Dagostino said. "(Walton) challenged us in ways that we've never been challenged before. Now we can work on things that we haven't been able to work on to this point."
For instance: Hitting against a taller and more disciplined block.
"There are things you can teach players to combat that type of block," Dagostino said. "You can tell them how to do it in practice, but until they play against it, like they did today, it's tough to fully grasp. Now I think they get it."
Now even experienced Bucs' players — including 6-foot-4 Amanda Phegley and 5-9 Jenna Hampton, who have both committed to play at powerhouse Penn State — can add this experience to their resumes.
"(Walton) did everything at a level that we haven't seen," Dagostino said. "(Walton) really has no weakness, so this was a great experience for all of our players. I can guarantee you that everyone of our players will get better after playing (Walton)."
In fairness to Berkeley Prep (6-1), Hurricane Irma did Dagostino, who was without power at her house for six days, and her players, without a practice or a game for more than a week, no favors.
"It's been a stressful week and a busy couple of days (five matches over two days in the tournament), so we looked pretty tired in the first game (of Saturday's final)," Dagostino said. "But I'm proud of the way we kept playing hard. The effort was there."
Because of Hurricane Irma, the tournament lost several teams (including highly-ranked Plant), which were not allowed to play after certain counties prohibited their public schools from playing over the weekend. A few private schools took the public school spots, but still the original 16-team field fell two teams short.
Berkeley Prep continues to look like a heavy favorite in the race for Florida's Class 5A state title.
The Bucs' optimism stems partly from solid Premier victories over perennial state powerhouses Tallahassee Leon (25-22, 25-17) and Orlando Bishop Moore (25-21, 25-21).