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Special Cardinal Mooney volleyball era ends with loss in regional final

Meanwhile, other sports are gearing up for state championship action over the next few weeks.

The Cardinal Mooney volleyball season came to an end Tuesday against Clearwater Central Catholic, but not before defeating defending champion Calvary Christian the round prior. (File photo.)
The Cardinal Mooney volleyball season came to an end Tuesday against Clearwater Central Catholic, but not before defeating defending champion Calvary Christian the round prior. (File photo.)
File photo
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A highly successful era of Cardinal Mooney High indoor volleyball is over. 

The Cougars (18-10) lost 3-1 to host Clearwater Central Catholic (19-7) in the Florida High School Athletic Associations Class 3A regional final on Tuesday night. Mooney took the first set 25-18 before dropping three straight. With the loss comes the end of the season and the end of the high school careers of Mooney's seniors. That group includes Jordyn Byrd, Madeline Carson, Gracie Page and Sawyer DeYoung. 

Byrd, who will play for the University of Texas next fall, was the only freshman on the Cougars' 2019 team that finished 22-10 and won a state championship 3-2 over Westminster Christian. But all of the seniors have had a positive impact on the program: the Cougars have gone 79-37 over the last four years despite a coaching change, moving from Chad Sutton to Chad Davis after the 2020 season. And even though this year's group could not quite get back to the Final Four, it did bring home one of the best individual wins of the era. That came on the road Oct. 28 when the Cougars stunned top-seeded and defending state champion Calvary Christian (24-4) with a 3-1 victory. 

"So incredibly proud of my girls and my coaching staff," Davis said following that match. "The girls did an amazing job following the game plan. The toughness they showed when the score was tied 22-22 (in set four) to pull out the match was inspiring. Every girl contributed tonight and Jordyn (Byrd) was incredible lifting our offense."

I've been lucky to cover the Cougars for all four years of these seniors' high school careers. I was usually watching them win, but even on the rare occasions they did not, they were always a blast to witness for the sheer emotion on their faces as they played. Though one class' time is up, the Cougars should return plenty of talent to the court next season, including setter Helena Hebda, libero Katie Powers and middle hitter Riley Greene.

There is plenty of story to be written in Mooney volleyball's pages in the future, but the book closes on the Cougars (and all area volleyball programs) for now. Other area fall sports programs, however, are still alive in the postseason. 

That includes Mooney's cross country program, where junior Addison Dempsey has the third fastest 5K time in the state across all classes (17:29.90). It was set at Dempsey's district meet at North Port High on Oct. 22. In Class 2A, Dempsey's time is second to Bolles High's Jillian Candelino (17:16.23), the defending Class 2A state champion. That's not an insignificant difference, but also not an impossible difference to make up at the state meet, which will be held Saturday at Apalachee State Park in Tallahassee. The park is notorious for being tough, particularly a section of the course known as "The Wall," a sharp uphill section that is enough to punish the legs of any runner accustomed to running on flat Florida ground. It can be an equalizer. 

Dempsey has already shaved off a lot of time this year — she finished the state run in 19:27.3 last year as a sophomore. Who's to say she can't shave a few more seconds for a state title?

And as always, watch out for Sarasota High's boys and girls teams in Class 4A. The Sailors boys finished fifth in their region while the girls finished third — and that was with the Sailors not pushing themselves to their limits, assuming coach John Stevenson followed through on his plans from last month. At regionals, the boys were led by senior Alec Miller (third place, 15:22.6) and the girls were led by sophomore Indy Grajalez (fifth place, 18:52.7). 

The state swim meet is also Nov. 5, at Sailfish Splashpark Aquatic Athletics Center in Stuart. Once again, the Sarasota High boys program and the Riverview High girls program, both defending Class 4A state champions, have a chance to repeat. Sarasota will enter the meet seeded No. 1 in the boys 200-yard medley relay (1:33.95), the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:25.89) and the 100 yard breaststroke (senior Liam Heary, 56.17); No. 2 in the 100-yard butterfly (Heary, 48.95); and have eight other top-10 entries in various events. Like usual, the team's depth gives the Sailors a massive advantage. 

Meanwhile, the Riverview girls have the chance to be even more dominant. The Rams are seeded No. 1 in the 200-yard freestyle (junior Addison Sauickie, 1:47.89), the 200-yard individual medley (junior Gracie Weyant, 2:00.05), the 100-yard freestyle (Sauickie, 50.08), the 500-yard freestyle (junior Bailey O'Reagan, 4:50.62), the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:35.20), the 100-yard breaststroke (Weyant, 1:01.85) and the girls 400 yard freestyle relay (3:24.99); No. 2 in the 200-yard medley relay (1:46.31); and have 12 other top-10 entries in various events. 

Somehow, that's not all. The Mooney boys golf team plays in its FHSAA regional meet Wednesday at The Eagles Golf Club in Odessa. A top-three finish would result in a trip to the state tournament, held Nov. 11-12 in Howey-in-the-Hills. The Riverview boys team, the other potential state qualifier, just missed out on a spot, finishing fourth (304) at its regional meet Monday at Crescent Oaks Country Club in Tarpon Springs, four strokes behind East Lake High. 

Got all that? Good. Because championship season is upon is. There's the potential for a lot of unforgettable moments to be made in the next few weeks. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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