TAMPA — On a team with two Division I-A volleyball commits, it can be tough to steer clear of standouts and lean on the collective. But all season, that's exactly what Berkeley Prep coach Mackenzie Dagostino has tried to get her team to do.
Outside hitters Amanda Phegley and Jenna Hampton came into Tuesday's region final against West Palm Beach King's Academy with more than 400 combined kills on the season. In the district semifinal a couple weeks ago, Dagostino even sat her two standouts at various points, just to force her other girls to step up.
Against the Lions, though, Phegley and Hampton didn't have to be on the bench for that to happen. Because finally, when her team needed it the most, Dagostino said, the Bucs finally found their collective stride.
Five Berkeley Prep players had at least five kills against King's Academy, and setter Grace Varsames had 34 assists on the way to a 3-0 (25-15, 25-21, 25-28) victory, earning Berkeley Prep its first state semifinal berth since 2015.
"That's what we've been striving for all season," Dagostino said. "I think they are genuinely buying into this." "It's very collective this year. I think everyone is 100 percent invested in that goal of making it all the way to states."
Despite the solid teamwork, service errors plagued the Bucs in the opening set. They had four in the early going, as King's Academy kept it close. But as the set wore on, Berkeley Prep found a rhythm, and Jenna Hampton helped balance her team with a pair of service aces. Berkeley Prep finished the set on an 11-4 run, with Phegley contributing three kills.
In the second set, the Bucs (28-2) jumped out to a big lead. But just as it did in the first, Berkeley Prep struggled to keep its serves in play, and continued service errors allowed the Lions to creep back in.
"(They were) a little too nervous, a little too excited," Dagostino said. "And because of that, I think we missed a lot of serves in the beginning."
King's Academy (25-1) led briefly midway through the second set, but Phegley had back-to-back blocks followed by a kill to kick off a Berkeley Prep run from which the Lions could never recover.
King's Academy started the third set on a 5-1 run. But by then, the Bucs had settled down in service. Once they settled into the third set, the Bucs cruised, passing well and working together to hand the Lions' their first and only loss of the season. Hampton and Phegley led the way with 10 and eight kills, respectively, but Ruby Agholor, Kellyn Trowse and Isabella Samson all stepped up with big swings to help deliver the knockout punch.
Dagostino said the key to victory was established the day before in practice, when the Bucs focused on team drills rather than individual, walking through exactly what they'd see from the Lions the next day.
"We did really well knowing where (our opponents) were," Varsames said, "being in the right spot to defend them and hitting in the right spots."
And as far as Phegley is concerned, that kind of teamwork has the Bucs destined for just one place.
"(State final), hopefully. We're dying for states," she said. "I think we can do it."