Getting beat by a rival isn't fun, but for the Cougars, this loss may be educational.
Pain now, rewards later.
That’s how Cardinal Mooney coach Chad Sutton wants his team to think about its home loss to rival Riverview High on Sept. 24. The Rams beat the Cougars in four games to split the season series, 1-1. For Cardinal Mooney, things started going wrong before the match even started, when Sutton learned star sophomore Ashley “Skye” Ekes would miss the match with an illness.
Sutton said he does not know how much time Ekes will miss. The result of her absence was Mooney playing a lineup it had never before practiced. Players were forced to play sides of the court they had no experience playing, even in previous seasons.
Against a team as talented as Riverview, Sutton said, that is less than ideal, but Mooney is a “no excuses” program. The Cougars still expected to win and, down 23-15, almost forced a fifth set with a miraculous run of six-straight points to make it 23-21. It wasn’t meant to be. Riverview took the set 25-21, and tears flowed on both sides of the net, some from joy and some from anguish.
Despite the short-term hurt, Sutton believes the loss isn’t all bad. Having to experiment with different lineups will allow for flexibility against good teams in the postseason, in case someone else gets hurt or a team throws an unexpected look at them. The Riverview match, outcome aside, proved to the Cougars that they can still compete with the best teams in the state when at a disadvantage. Sutton said he was proud of his team for fighting to the end.
“I have a better feel for what we are in here,” Sutton said of his players, tapping his heart with a fist. “This season, we have had some hard losses against quality opponents that have made us question ourselves a little. Tonight, obviously, kids were out of position. To be able to learn through the game as we went was good to see. I’m excited for them but a little disappointed for them, because they still tried to make this thing happen.
“They know now that if anything happens, we will still be able to put together a quality team.”
In Ekes’ absence, freshman Jordyn Byrd had 14 kills, and senior Sophia Hritz had 13 to go with 15 digs.
The match was another exciting entry in what is quickly becoming one of the top match-ups in Sarasota County across all sports. Sutton said the rivalry is heated — on the court, at least — because all the girls know each other, strengths and weaknesses alike. When things are personal, the intensity skyrockets.
It’s a measuring stick game for both teams, and splitting the series shows that both squads are capable of big things. Mooney entered the game ranked seventh in the state, in all classifications, by MaxPreps, and Riverview entered 13th.