By Walter Villa
Berkeley Prep (Tampa, Fla.) was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50 last year when it ran into Mercy (Louisville, Ky.).
The matchup, which came in the final of Berkeley’s Premier Volleyball Tournament, was won by Mercy in five sets. Mercy won the final set 19-17 to knock the Bucs off the top spot.
This year, Berkeley is ranked third in the FAB 50 and is off to another strong start at 6-0, including a five-set win over 2010 state champ East Lake (Tarpon Springs, Fla.).
But the Bucs will be challenged to an even greater degree this Friday and Saturday when they host the 19th annual Premier tournament. The field will again include Mercy, which is unranked this week but has won the tournament six times in the past eight years.
To his credit, Berkeley coach Randy Dagostino, whose team won the tournament the other two years, keeps inviting Mercy back.
“I’m always looking for teams that will push us and make the tournament better,” Dagostino said.
Dagostino may have “discovered” another such team in No. 18 Chattahoochee (Johns Creek, Ga.). The Cougars went 50-5 last season but really opened eyes this year. They are the only team to beat No. 5 Assumption (Louisville, Ky.) so far this season.
Chattahoochee (25-4) is 5-0 this season against Kentucky teams, including wins over No. 34 Sacred Heart (Louisville, Ky.) and Mercy.
The other teams entered at the Premier are No. 50 Bishop Moore (Orlando, Fla.); Lake Mary (Lake Mary, Fla.); Leon (Tallahassee, Fla.); Francis Howell (St. Charles, Mo.); and Springstead (Spring Hill, Fla.).
Berkeley is the top seed in the tournament, but Dagostino doesn’t think his team has “clicked” just yet. He’s had to replace three of his seven starters from last season, and Dagostino says star outside hitter Jordan Burgess has yet to hit her peak since returning from Turkey, where she was playing for the U.S. Youth National team.
“She’s had a lot of nagging – I don’t even want to call them injuries,” Dagostino said. “She’s just played a lot of volleyball, and she missed a couple of weeks of jelling with her teammates while she was in Turkey.
“But we’re working hard. We’ll get there.”
Young guns in Vegas
Six underclassmen made the 17-player All-Tournament team last weekend at the Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas, Nev., including 5-foot-7 freshman opposite hitter Faith Ma’afala of Kamehameha (Honolulu, Hawaii).
Three sophomores made the team: 6-2 outside hitter Brittany Abercrombie of La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.); 6-2 middle blocker Crissy Jonesof Los Alamitos (Los Alamitos, Calif.); and 5-9 setter/outside hitter Alex Filley of Assumption (Louisville, Ky.).
The two juniors on the prestigious team are 6-3 middle blocker Taylor Paulson of Assumption and 5-7 outside hitter Amanda Benson of Xavier (Phoenix, Ariz.).
Glass half full, or half empty?
Los Alamitos coach Dave Huber was pleased with his team’s performance at Durango, especially the way they battled after blowing a 24-21 second-set lead to Marymount (Los Angeles, Calif.) in the semifinal.
“To kind of have one taken from us like that, I didn’t know how we would respond,” Huber said. “But we regained our composure and got to the final. I’m proud of the way we fought back. Our girls were in it physically and mentally.”
Coach Pat McDougall of La Costa Canyon was also feeling good, even after his team lost in the semifinals to Assumption.
“We had only played two matches coming into Las Vegas,” said McDougall, who also praised his new setter, Jordan Robbins, a 5-10 junior. “We didn’t know what to expect, but I’m very happy with the results.”
Meanwhile, Marymount coach Cari Klein was upset her team continued a recent trend of falling behind early only to rally late.
“Our kids gave a great effort,” Klein said after the loss to Los Alamitos. “But we need to get better. We need to block smarter. We seem to think we can give up points and battle back, but we can’t do that against really good teams.”
Senior setter Lauren Fuller was named to the all-tournament team, and Klein praised Fuller’s twin, Manon Fuller, a 6-0 senior outside hitter and said that 6-2 junior middle blocker Kaitlyn Edwards has “come alive.”