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Only the elite welcome in this volleyball event

Think capturing a state title is tough? Try winning the Berkeley Premier.

"This is far more competitive than most state semifinals and finals," Berkeley Prep volleyball coach Randy Dagostino said.

The Premier, in its 12th year, is a 16-team event that begins Friday at 3 p.m. and features top squads from Florida (such as Durant and Tampa Prep), Alabama and Louisiana. The event is so loaded that Berkeley Prep, the No. 1 team in Class 2A, is seeded third in one of the four pools. The Buccaneers (7-1) have lost only to Venice, the top-ranked squad in 5A.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is the premier tournament for the whole southeastern U.S.," said Dagostino, who has 12 state championships as coach. "These are the high points of the season. It's a good measuring stick."

Dagostino doesn't take any aspect of the event lightly. When scheduling, only the best programs earn invites and even past champions are thoroughly screened.

"We handpick the teams," he said. "I look at how many kids they graduated, what type of impact those players had on the program, how they're going to be that particular year."

Berkeley is led by junior outside hitter Janet Okogbaa, whom Dagostino calls "one of the top five juniors in the country" and senior outside hitter Anne Miller. For a complete tourney schedule. visit

CHANGE OF HEART: When Hillsborough junior quarterback Jarred Fayson committed to USF this summer, Terriers coach Earl Garcia thought the move was a bit premature. So he wasn't surprised to hear the news Fayson had backed off the commitment.

"He shouldn't have committed in the first place," Garcia said. "I haven't had an 11th-grader commit before. I don't see the advantage for either the institution or the player to commit early. Personally, I think South Florida would be a great place, but I try to stay out of it unless players ask me."

Since announcing the commitment to USF, Fayson has received scholarship offers from a handful of other schools, Garcia said. The player now plans to look at all of his options. USF remains in the picture.

"He's got time," Garcia said.

WINNING WAYS: Armwood's football team owns the state's longest current win steak (18 games), but the Hawks have a ways to go to break the record of 52 straight set by Lake Butler Union County from 1994 to '97.

Armwood coach Sean Callahansaid the Hawks aren't too concerned about the streak. Apparently, winning teams, and coaches, think alike. During its streak, Union County took the same approach.

"Our kids never talked about it," said former Union County coach Robby Pruitt, now at Fitzgerald (Ga.). "And as coaches we never talked about it. We were always trying to win state championships. That was the bigger deal to us. I guess you can make it what you want."

Like Armwood, Union County wasn't short on talent. Tigers quarterback Andrew Zow and defensive lineman Gerard Warrenlater started at Alabama and Florida, respectively. And a handful of other players signed with major programs.

"They were leaders, the kind of guys that always pushed to be the best they could," Pruitt said. "That kind of attitude took over and the young kids got to see it. It snowballed."

Looks like it has at Armwood, too.

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 226-

3350 or e-mail