Winning titles and reaching states is the norm and the expectation at St. Thomas Aquinas.
But there’s a sport where that’s not the case — boys’ volleyball.
Like senior Sean Davis said, “We never really got recognition in our school. Some people didn’t even know we had a boys’ volleyball team.”
They’ll know now, even if the Raiders fell in an emotional five-set match to Tampa Berkeley Prep 25-18, 23-25, 21-25, 25-21, 15-11 in a state semifinal Saturday afternoon at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale.
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St. Thomas advanced as far as it ever has in boys’ volleyball. The Raiders had never reached states before, and in quarterfinals late Friday night, even ousted previously unbeaten Wellington in straight sets.
Usually when teams reach this stage in the postseason and are eliminated, players are teary-eyed, but not this group. The seven seniors who played their final match understood the accomplishment they made regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
“Being a team of all seniors, we’ve just grown up with each other since freshman year,” said Davis, who finished with 13 kills and 14 digs. “So we have that tight bond. We’re brothers. We win as a family, we lose as a family, but we’re always a family.”
Kyle Dagostino won it for Berkeley Prep, which ultimately defeated Longwood Lyman in the final to win the state title, with a laser of a service ace to finish off the Raiders. He had a kill on the previous point as well and finished with 30 kills, 17 digs and two aces.
Aquinas did not have to deal with Dagostino when it beat Berkeley in a regular season tournament and he was injured, but they felt his impact on Saturday.
“I think Kyle’s the best player in the state of Florida,” said father and Berkeley coach Randy Dagostino. “He’s been doing this since he came back from injury, so I wasn’t surprised. It sounds egotistical, but he’s that good.”
The Raiders (21-4) felt it wasn’t all about Dagostino’s stellar play.
“They have so many weapons to go to. You think it’s going to Dagostino, and then it’ll go to another guy and they’ll get the kill for them,” Davis said. “They’re so well-rounded. It’s not just him, but he definitely put the team on his back.”
Said St. Thomas coach Eric Wurts, “He hit well, but I don’t think he was the deciding factor.”
The Raiders also dropped a fourth set the Buccaneers led wire to wire after winning the second and third and having all the moment on their side.
“I knew that fourth game was pretty pivotal. You never know what happens in the fifth, so you don’t want to go to that deciding game,” Wurts said.
Aquinas had four serves go into the net and lost by four points in that set.
Nicholas Rusk had 28 kills, 31 digs and two blocks for the Raiders. Robert Carsello registered 14 kills, 23 digs, two aces and two aces. Kyle Schroeder added nine kills, and setter Stefano Rivera led the team with 47 assists.