TAMPA — In July of 2020, Berkeley Prep high school got national attention when Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady held not-so-secret preseason workouts on its football field. This year, the Berkeley Prep volleyball team wants to make its own headlines.
Entering the weekend, the Buccaneers are ranked #2 in the state of Florida and #5 in the nation according to the FHSAA and MaxPreps. They're 21-2 overall this season, but things haven't been that easy. Berkeley Prep's battled COVID and the injury bug, and they're still able to string together 14 straight wins.
"We’re like a family," said head coach Justeen Coulson. "The team has been through so much, that I don’t see anything stopping us at this point because we’ve already fought so many hard battles together. It’s been so fun to be a part of this group."
The Bucs are led by a strong senior class, including outside hitter Ava Swain, who just passed the 1,000 kill mark in her career. Swain, who committed to play for the University of North Carolina, is quick to give credit to her supporting cast.
"Setting, of course, it’s the most important position on the team. Kind of like the quarterback of the team," Swain said before practice. "We’ve been blessed with great setters. I’ve been playing with both of them for four years now. Super high-level. I’m really blessed with all the support around me."
"She’s just matured so much," Coulson added. "Her leadership this year has really helped this team. I’m super proud of her."
The players say the key to getting their offense going is playing good defense.
"Our defense has been strong. We work on it every single day since day one," sophomore Bailey Higgins said. "We’ve worked on getting set, making everything perfect. Once it went from there, offense went into place also. Getting each, tiny part perfect."
Berkeley's upperclassmen say one of the keys to their success is their match preparation. Specifically, who braids their hair.
"[Olivia Rabinowitz] always braids my hair, Ava’s hair, a lot of girls on the teams hair," senior Breanna McDonough said with a huge grin. "That definitely makes us more confident. You know, you gotta play good and look good at the same time. So that definitely helped us with winning."
Rabinowitz, also a senior, said the hair craze started after a big tournament win earlier this year, and it's here to stay.
"A superstitious thing happened," she explained. "So we were like 'Okay, I need to get my hair done before all the games. Because I played so well against that specific team.' So it just started being a tradition."
Swain said the seniors on this team have been best friends since they started playing together, and she feels like the time is right for this team to win a state championship.
"It just feels so right that now it’s all coming together, senior year. It really does take a core group and a special friendship to make that happen."
Rabinowitz couldn't agree more.
"We’ve done a good job of completing our tasks, our goals, and that’s the last one that we want to do."