The transition started with a little turbulence and a lot more losses than Berkeley Prep has grown accustomed to in recent years.
No matter: the Buccaneers have corrected themselves just in time for their customary title run.
Sidney Brown, the latest transcendent Berkeley Prep star, had a game-high 17 kills to lead the Bucs to a sweep of Jacksonville Episcopal in their Class 4A semifinal Friday at Silver Spurs Arena.
The 25-19, 25-14, 25-20 victory moves Berkeley Prep a step closer to the school's fourth straight state championship and 16th overall, which would break a tie with Tampa Prep for the area record.
"Being here is something we expect," Brown said. "I think it's all finally coming together."
Addison Harden had 11 kills and two blocks, Jessica Silva had 10 kills and Maddie Alberdi had 45 assists in Berkeley's methodical domination. Brown had one fewer kill than Episcopal (20-7) had for the match.
The win sets up championship rematch at 2 p.m. today against Orlando Bishop Moore, which the Bucs have defeated in three straight title matches. But Bishop Moore returns as a heavy favorite: the Hornets are the state's top-ranked team, Berkeley Prep lost more matches this year (11) than in the previous three (nine), and Bishop Moore was the winner in the teams' season-opening contest.
"Being the underdog fires us up," said Silva, a senior middle blocker. "We all want revenge and we want to show them how much we've improved."
In their first final four appearance without program architect and longtime coach Randy Dagostino on the sideline, the Bucs showed they have almost completely recovered from early-season struggles.
Dagostino, who handed over the program to longtime assistant John Coup, has been a fixture on the bench throughout the season. But Dagostino missed Friday's semifinal to watch daughter Mackenzie Dagostino, a former Bucs star and freshman setter at Maryland, play against Florida State later that evening.
Trailing 14-13 in the first game after a sloppy start, the Bucs ran off seven straight points.
The Eagles never really recovered. With Alberdi setting up Brown and Silva and Logan Weldon over and over, Episcopal simply couldn't match the Bucs' strength, precision and depth.
"We just haven't had the experience of being here before," said first-year Eagles coach Philippa Marks. "But when things go wrong, it starts to get in your head and tears apart your team confidence-wise."
Meanwhile, the Bucs seem to be in synch after struggling to fill the roles of All-Americans Dagostino and Jordan Burgess.
"Going into this year, people didn't expect much from us," Coup said. "I'm ecstatic to see how far we've come."
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3A: Rally not quite enough for CCC
KISSIMMEE - Clearwater Central Catholic spent the first two games of Friday's Class 3A state semifinal against Gainesville St. Francis Catholic trying to settle down.
The atmosphere of a state tournament, coupled with the Wolves' maddening ability to keep points alive, gave the Marauders fits.
Trailing 2-0 at Silver Spurs Arena, CCC (23-8) finally calmed down and won the next two games. But the comeback fell five points short. The Marauders, playing in their first state semifinal since 1989, lost 25-23, 25-19, 23-25, 21-25, 15-10.
St. Francis (27-4) is trying to win the school's first state title.
"I think in the beginning our nerves got to us and it showed," senior setter Casey Moore said. "That was a factor, and St. Francis was very consistent. They did a very good job of extending plays. I'm proud of our effort, but in the end it wasn't enough to get the win."
The Marauders' biggest deficit in the first game was 10-4, but they managed to fight their way back thanks to the net play of Shea Hamilton, Katie Moore and Rachel Odell. CCC tied the score at 22 on an ace by Alyssa Rodriguez. The Wolves scored three of the next four points and ended the game on two straight kills by Kathryn Herrington.
The second game looked much more promising for the Marauders. CCC jumped out to a 7-1 lead behind kills from Katie Moore and Odell. Then St. Francis got rolling. The Wolves went on a 12-2 run and took a 13-9 lead. Allison Benton, who had a game-high 27 kills, had four kills during the run.
CCC kept it close but never came back, losing 25-23.
Down by two games, CCC decided on a new strategy.
"I think we just got the feeling that we had nothing to lose," Casey Moore said. "We wanted to come out swinging."
Early on, that's exactly what they didn't do. St. Francis took a 7-1 lead and looked like it was going to sweep. But the Marauders went on a 9-1 run and grabbed a 10-9 lead. The Wolves had one more run in the third when they led 15-11, but CCC fought back to tie 22-22. Odell and Hamilton closed out the game with consecutive kills.
CCC never trailed in the fourth game, though the Wolves did tie it at 17-17. But St. Francis errors and more net play from Sara Brown and Katie Moore closed it out and forced a fifth game.
With the score tied 7-7, St. Francis went on a 5-2 run, then scored the final three points on kills by Benton and Farah Rajaee and a spike into the net by Odell to win the match.
Hamilton led CCC with 16 kills. Katie Moore added 13 and nine blocks. Rachel Miller had 25 digs, and Casey Moore had 41 assists. CCC had 108 digs in the match to St. Francis' 102.
Despite the loss, the Marauders were proud of their effort.
"Everybody left everything on the court," Miller said. "It's just that some things weren't clicking today. Things weren't going our way. It happens sometimes."
Rodney Page, Times staff writer
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Berkeley Prep vs. Orlando Bishop Moore
When/where: 2:05 p.m. today. Silver Spurs Arena, Kissimmee
Admission: $9 per session; parking is $5.
On the Web: Follow Joel Anderson on Twitter @jdhometeam.