Chad Sutton wants to transform the school into a premier spot for volleyball players.
Florida high school volleyball might soon have a new mecca.
And if it was up to Chad Sutton, there’d be no “might” about it.
The first-year varsity girls volleyball coach at Cardinal Mooney High School wants his school to become the destination of every top player in the state. In fact, one of the main reasons Sutton made the switch to the Cougars after five years at Sarasota High School was the willingness of the school to implement his vision and goals for the program.
“I want this to be a place where if you play volleyball, this is where you have to go,” Sutton said.
Sutton’s already thrown numerous ideas on how to accomplish this at Bill Donivan, Cardinal Mooney’s athletic director. One of those ideas was Cougar Encounter, a 16-team varsity volleyball tournament held at both Cardinal Mooney and Braden River High School on Sept. 24. Donivan was a big fan of the idea because, besides being a lot of fun for athletes and parents alike, it eliminates the need for so many games during the week.
Starting a boys volleyball program at the school is also a top priority, and one that is feasible early on in Sutton’s tenure. Sutton said that he had 40 male students inquire about the idea of a boys program in a single day, so he knows the interest is there.
The biggest change Sutton is looking to make is the establishment of a beach volleyball program. Not just a team, but courts. On-campus courts.
Sutton was enthusiastic in his plans for the beach volleyball program, and said he has already started a few campaigns to get the ball rolling on the project.
His timeline and the school’s timeline may not line up perfectly. Donivan smiled when asked about the sand courts and said they may be built “in a few years.” Sutton simply said he wanted everything accomplished as soon as possible.
While Donivan wouldn’t comment on if Sutton was his first choice for the position, he was effusive in his praise for his promising new coach, saying Sutton’s done a lot right in the short time he’s been with the Cougars.
All this planning for the future doesn’t mean Sutton’s forgotten about his current girls varsity team. Quite the opposite, in fact. The team’s been playing well, and Sutton is getting his players prepared for what will be a tough district tournament.
“Three teams in our district are top-15 in the state, all-classes,” Sutton said. “We have the 4th-hardest schedule according to MaxPreps in the state, all-classes. So we’re playing the hardest teams we can to prepare ourselves for that district. At the end of the day, it just comes down to when you’re in that district (tournament), can you win when it counts? We gotta see where we finish off in our seeding, and then see how well we do in the tournament.”
Doing well in the district tournament would be nothing new to Cardinal Mooney volleyball. They’ve won 12 district championships, with the most recent title coming in 2014. A drop-off in that department would likely not be met with satisfaction. Thankfully for Cardinal Mooney, it doesn't seem like Sutton will let that happen.
A can of Red Bull Yellow Edition in hand, Sutton prowls the sideline with his eyes always on the court. He’s not a screamer, he’s a teacher. After a win at Cougar Encounter, he instructed his team to watch the other games going on instead of completely taking the hour before its next game off. His focus is singular, and he believes that while on the court, his team’s should be, too.
Sutton praised the squad’s six seniors for buying into his grand vision, saying he’s proud of the way they’ve played thus far this season. That class includes Madison McNally, Annie Shaw and Brooke Picchi, all from Sarasota.
The Cougars will have a significant drop-off in experience after the seniors leave next year. That might worry other, less confident coaches, but Sutton actually seemed excited by all the youth on his team.
“We only have one junior and then it’s just all sophomores and freshmen,” Sutton said. “For a couple years, we’re gonna have kids on the court that are playing three years for us. It’s very exciting. I’m very happy with where they’re at now, but I’m very excited about where the future of our program is gonna be.”
If even half of Sutton's plans get past the drawing board stage and become reality, an entire region of volleyball players will join him in that excitement.