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Prose and Kohn

Cardinal Mooney beach volleyball prepares to defend SSAC title following first loss

The Cougars lost 3-2 to Bradenton Christian on April 13, but are confident heading into the SSAC tournament.

The Cardinal Mooney beach volleyball team captured the Sunshine State Athletic Conference state title on April 30 in Taveras.
The Cardinal Mooney beach volleyball team captured the Sunshine State Athletic Conference state title on April 30 in Taveras.
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The Cardinal Mooney High beach volleyball team's hopes of an undefeated regular season fell a few points short, but the Cougars are keeping their heads up as the postseason approaches. 

Before the team's regular season finale April 18, a match against Braden River High, the Cougars (14-1) jogged around their home courts with determined looks, ready to avenge a 3-2 loss to Bradenton Christian School (12-0) seven days prior. Their preparation — and their mental strength to move on — showed in their play: the Cougars beat the Pirates 5-0. 

While no team ever wants to lose, especially with a potential undefeated season in play, the BCS loss is an understandable one. As of April 18, Cardinal Mooney is No. 18 in MaxPreps' national rankings and No. 10 in Florida; BCS is No. 4 nationally and No. 2 in Florida. Cougars Coach Chad Davis said the loss was tough because of how it happened. Two Cougars pairs won their matches 2-0, but the other three pairs lost in three sets — with two of the losses being 15-13 decisions. Davis said the loss came down to a mixture of bad bounces and errors at critical times. 

"We were five minutes away from winning the match 3-0," Davis said. "Then things started turning on us. But you have to give (BCS) credit, they played well. We just made mistakes at the highest pressure points of the matches." 

Madeline Carson is a key member of the Cardinal Mooney beach volleyball team.
File photo

Davis said his message to the team, other than fixing the things that went wrong, was that the loss did nothing to compromise the team's dreams of a state title run (or two). And while not fun to experience, Davis said, the loss did not do anything to lower the team's confidence should the two teams meet again. 

That could happen as soon as this weekend, when Mooney heads to Orlando's Game Point Events Center April 21-22 to compete in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference state tournament. It is the same state tournament that the Cougars won a season ago, and they are hungry to not let the title slip into anyone else's claws. 

If the bracket breaks how Davis and the Cougars think it can, the Cougars may meet the Panthers in the finals, and they are eager for a chance at redemption. Davis called the potential rematch "a good motivator," and his team agreed. 

"We know what to do now," senior Madeline Carson said. "I think it was actually good that we experienced that. It was valuable. We know how we can beat them (in the postseason)." 

Davis said winning the tournament in 2022 should give his team a boost heading into this weekend. There won't be any change in the coaches' messages now that the postseason is here. The Cougars are experienced; they know what needs to be done now that there are no do-overs. 

One difference between the 2022 and 2023 SSAC events: while last year's tournament was a traditional best-of-five event, the 2023 event is best of three. The shortening of each match has allowed Mooney to field three different teams for the event, so it's possible that multiple Cougars teams could make it deep into play.  

But the SSAC event is only the beginning. Assuming both teams keep winning throughout district play, they could face each other in a Class 1A play-in game for the Florida High School Athletic Association state tournament as well. 

While both events are state title events, the FHSAA event features more teams and thus more competition. The FHSAA play-in match will be on May 1 — and if it is indeed those two teams, Mooney would be on the road, not at its sparkling home facilities. It's one of the consequences of dropping the regular-season game, Davis said. 

"I told the team, there are always ramifications of certain things," Davis said. "But the good news is, home court is not quite as important in beach volleyball as it is during indoor volleyball. It's different outdoors, but it still would have been nice to have it here." 

Time will tell if these rematches will happen, and who will win if they do. What I do know is this: a Sarasota-Manatee area rivalry like this is good for the sport of beach volleyball. Indoor volleyball gets a lot of respect around here, and rightfully so, but a competitive beach volleyball match can be just as compelling. The sport is growing at the college level — up nearly 1,000 athletes compared to a decade ago, according to NCAA data — and as more teams add it to their offerings in Florida, I would not be shocked to see its popularity explode in the coming years. 

Rivalries like this one, between nationally ranked teams playing close-as-can-be matches, can be a spark. Throw in the backdrop of a state tournament and the rivalry becomes a rocket ship. 

"When there's a big reward, I think everyone's intensity goes up," Davis said. "Everyone knows what is at stake. You can feel the excitement building. Everyone's talking about it." 

Even if the two teams don't meet this weekend, Mooney has a chance to repeat as state champions, another notch on the belt of a historic season. 



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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