JACKSONVILLE ó Berkeley Prep won the schoolís 16th state volleyball championship Thursday night, and the Bucs had to work hard to get it. They were stretched to five games before finally prevailing 24-26, 25-21, 25-17, 23-25, 15-10 over Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the Class 5A state final at the University of North Florida.
Itís the second five-set match the Bucs have played in the postseason. They also won a five-setter against Tampa Catholic in the district semifinals. There was more pressure in this one, which is why players collapsed into each otherís arms after the final point.
"There was excitement and relief," said senior outside hitter Jenna Hampton, who ended the match with 11 kills. "Lake Highland is a very good team and we knew that. They really challenged us."
Lake Highland Prep won the first set, but Berkeley Prep rallied to win the next two. The Highlanders (24-3) battled back to win the fourth and set up the decisive fifth set.
"I knew they were tired, their brains were getting fatigued," Berkeley Prep coach Mackenzie Dagostino said. "But we had to push. We had to find every ounce of energy left, whether itís in your toes, your fingers, your head, the tips of your hair. Find the energy and we will win this."
And they did.
The Bucs (27-2) jumped out to a 7-3 lead and managed to stay on top. Whenever they need a big point, Hampton, Amanda Phegley (12 kills) or Kellyn Trowse (17 kills) was there to deliver. The lead shrunk to 13-9, but two Lake Highland errors allowed the Bucs to finish it off.
"Itís safe to say that people expected us to be here," Dagostino said. "We played and practiced and worked every day to be here. Winning states shows how hard they worked and the emotions after that final point shows how hard they worked."
The Bucs were Hillsborough Countyís second state champion of the day. Carrollwood Day won the Class 4A state title.
"Before the fifth set the seniors were saying how we want to end on a good note," senior setter Grace Varsames said. "This was our last game ever playing for Berkeley and we werenít going to have it end badly."
If Berkeley Prep had any doubt the match would be a challenge, that was erased in the first set. Both teams traded points much of the set. The Bucs took a late lead at 23-22 after scoring three straight points. But the Highlanders came back to tie it at 24, then scored the final two points to take the set and a 1-0 lead.
The second set was just as close. Like the first set, teams traded points until the score was tied at 21. An errant kill gave the Bucs a lead. Then two straight aces by Hampton made it 24-21. The set ended on a block by Trowse.
That second-set flurry carried over to the third set for Berkeley Prep. The Bucs started on a 7-2 run and never trailed. With the score 10-5, they scored seven straight points behind kills from Hampton and Trowse. With a 10-point lead, the Highlanders could get no closer than seven points and seemed to save their strength for the fourth set.
The Bucs got off to a 6-1 lead in the fourth but gave that all back when the Highlanders tied it at 8. The lead see-sawed from there, and Berkeley Prep took a 19-17 lead late. But the Highlanders scored five of the final seven points to force a fifth set.
"We knew all about Lake Highland," Hampton said. "This is exactly how we expected it to be."