As the Florida High School Athletic Association state volleyball regional tournaments begin tonight, Hillsborough County teams will attempt to reach the state final four in their respective classifications, a goal most county teams have been successful with in recent years.
Last season, Plant and Berkeley Prep advanced to a state championship match, with Plant walking away with the Class 5A title, the program's sixth crown. In 2004, Tampa Prep and Bayshore Christian won the 2A and 1A state titles, respectively. In 1998, 2001 and 2003, three county teams won state titles.
Tampa Prep is second on the state's all-time volleyball championships list with 15, followed by Berkeley with 12. Plant is tied for fourth with six titles, while Durant and Bayshore have won three titles apiece. Brandon has two state titles and Robinson has one to complete the list of county volleyball championships.
The only other teams to come close to winning a state title are Tampa Catholic and Academy of the Holy Names, which lost in the state final.
At one point, however, it was rare for any team other than Tampa Prep or Berkeley Prep to reach the state final four. Some years, those schools played in the same classification, meaning one would be eliminated in a regional match.
'We both started in 1A and then we moved up to 2A together,' Berkeley Prep coach Randy Dagostino said. 'Then we moved up to 3A and in 1995 or 1996, we lost to Prep in the state finals.'
Berkeley defeated Tampa Prep in the 3A final in 1995, then lost in a rematch in 1996.
Plant won the inaugural Class 4A title in 1974 and repeated in '75. Robinson won the 4A title in 1978 and Brandon took home the 4A title in 1984 and 1986. No other county team besides Berkeley or Tampa Prep had won a state title until 1999, when Durant won its first.
'For the longest it was either us or Tampa Prep,' Dagostino said. 'Durant was the only other team, I remember, that made a run. Then Plant came back on the scene, then Bayshore Christian. The last six or seven years, they've been there.'
In every classification except 4A, at least one county team has earned a state ranking this season. Plant is ranked No. 1 in 5A in the latest state poll and is the highest nationally ranked Florida team at No. 36, according to the most-recent Century Club National Poll. Sickles is ranked seventh in 6A, while Durant has popped in and out. Berkeley Prep is No. 3 in 3A and Bayshore is No. 2 in 1A. For one week, Tampa Prep was tied at No. 10 in 2A.
All of those teams, plus Brandon, Armwood, Hillsborough, Holy Names and Cambridge, have earned regional berths.
Dagostino said the emergence of club volleyball, which he started in Florida in 1984, is one of the reasons programs have improved over the years.
'A good core of the athletes that participate at those schools are playing year-round,' he said.
Each team in the regional tournament is three wins from reaching the state final four, which begins Nov. 14. If history repeats itself, Hillsborough County could be well represented once again.
Volleyball Regional Schedule
All matches begin at 7 p.m.