TAMPA — Berkeley Prep won Tuesday’s Class 5A-9 district semifinal against Tampa Catholic, but barely. That was due in large part, Bucs coach Mackenzie Dagostino said, to mental miscues. Against the Crusaders, Berkeley Prep made a lot of errors and didn’t always play like a state championship-contending team.
So in practice Wednesday, Dagostino made her Bucs go back to the basics, walking through their strategy and brushing up on the brainpower that got them there in the first place.
And in Thursday’s district championship match against Cardinal Mooney, it paid off.
Berkeley Prep cruised to yet another district championship, beating the Cougars 3-1 (25-20, 22-25, 25-22, 25-6) behind a standout performance from Penn State commit Amanda Phegley. But more than any one player, Dagostino was proud of the way her team rebounded from a challenging semifinal — not just physically but mentally
“We talk about being brains and brawn. Obviously we have very talented, very physical athletes, but what sets us apart from a lot of teams is that we can be extremely intelligent when we play,” Dagostino said. “The girls did a really good job of coming in and implementing the brain portion of the game and not just the brawn portion.”
Throughout the first three sets, the Cougars kept it close, even winning the second despite falling behind early. Berkeley Prep (26-2) jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the second and had as much as an eight-point advantage. In the middle of that set, though, Phegley was taken out of the game, and the Cougars (19-9) took advantage of her brief absence, going on a 7-3 run.
“She’s definitely a huge aspect of the team. She gets kills a lot, and her block is huge,” freshman outside hitter Natalie Bono said. “She’s got team spirit.”
But alongside Phegley, Bono also made a name for herself Thursday night.
The freshman started in the place of Jenna Hampton, who was kept out for rest, Dagostino said. It was a tall order for a first-year player to try and replace the senior and Penn State commit, but Bono held it down, getting big hits all night, including four kills and a service ace in the Bucs’ first set.
“She passed really well, she was hitting smart shots, and she was touching really good blocks,” Dagostino said. “She’s going to be the future of our program, so we want to give her experience in these situations where we know she can excel, and she did that tonight.”
After taking the second set, the Cougars played Berkeley Prep close in the third before a hard spike from Phegley sealed the deal for the Bucs. The fourth set started out much like the second, with the Bucs jumping to an 11-3 lead. But this time, Cardinal Mooney couldn’t make a comeback.
A district championship perhaps gives Berkeley Prep an easier road to the state title match, a thing with which the 15-time state champion Bucs are quite familiar. Still, Dagostino makes sure her team takes nothing for granted. After the game, the Bucs celebrated with the trophy they had just won, all while dreaming of another.
“States,” Bono said, “I definitely think we have the potential to win.”