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Trio of stars lead Cardinal Mooney girls basketball to No. 4 class ranking

The Cougars are seeking a third-straight trip to the state semifinals.

Cardinal Mooney won a district title Feb. 3 with a 70-30 win over Bradenton Christian.
Cardinal Mooney won a district title Feb. 3 with a 70-30 win over Bradenton Christian.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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A trio of players is looking to lead Cardinal Mooney High's girls basketball program where it has never been: to a state championship. 

The Cougars, one of the premier teams in the state in recent seasons, are seeking their third-straight trip to the Florida High School Athletic Association state final four in Class 3A. As of Feb. 4, Mooney is 17-5 and on Feb. 3 captured its third-straight district title with a 70-30 home win over Bradenton Christian (12-10). 

The team has a new coach in Marlon Williams, who has brought a new philosophy to the program, but the Cougars are led on the court by three players who have been to the brink of a state championship and are determined to bring one home in 2023. 

East County's Olivia Davis is Cardinal Mooney girls basketball's lone senior.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Olivia Davis is the team's lone senior. Davis, the team's emotional leader on and off the court, is averaging 16 points, 3.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game and has signed with the University of Tampa. The 5-foot-7 Davis is joined by two sophomores who have seen their roles and responsibilities expand from a season ago. Kali Barrett, 6-foot-1, is a versatile player who leads the team with 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game; Sy'monique Simon, 5-foot-6, is an aggressive defender and leads the team with 1.7 steals per game while adding 12 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. 

Williams and the Mooney coaching staff were bullish on the trio from the start and knew they could carry the load on a successful team. 

It took the trio a bit longer to adjust to Williams' coaching style, which puts an emphasis on conditioning and demands its on-court leaders getting the little things right. 

"We hate running 'suicides,'" Davis said with a laugh. "But they do pay off in games. We can full-court press the whole game. It's the best thing for us." 

The Cougars run not only typical "suicide" drills — down the court and back, in sections — but a defensive variation, running sideways with bent knees and hands held high, which Barrett said is even more tiring. The trio may not always want to do them, but to set an example for their teammates, they complete them full bore. 

Before the team saw the results of the intense training and defense-first mindset, players were skeptical, Davis said. All it took was a few games for everyone to change their minds. A 65-47 home win over Tampa Prep (20-8) was especially convincing. 

East County's Kali Barrett (21) leads the Cougars with 16.5 points per game.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Of the Cougars' five losses, only one came against a team with double-digit losses, and that was a 54-51 loss to Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High (12-10), which MaxPreps has ranked as the No. 8 team in Class 3A. The Cougars beat the teams they should beat and can compete with anyone on their best days.

The trio's leadership is even more important when its depth is considered. This year, the Cougars have just eight players on their roster. The lack of depth means lots of playing time for Davis, Barrett and Simon, a role the trio has embraced. They do have help — sophomore guard Bri Behn adds 7.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, and junior forward Sam Kotasek adds 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, for instance — but when games get into crunch time, it's going to be one of the three leaders taking the biggest shots. 

Simon said all three players want responsibility put on their shoulders as players who have been to the state Final Four and know what it will take to get back. 

Sy'monique Simon is a lockdown defender on the Cardinal Mooney High girls basketball team.
File photo

"It's fun to know we're going to be pushed to new heights," Simon said. "You're going above your 'limit' and reaching your full potential." 

The Cougars' potential is lofty. Mooney is ranked fourth in Class 3A and 17th in Florida by MaxPreps. They will play Bishop Verot High (16-9) in the regional quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Feb. 9; the Vikings are ranked 33rd in Class 3A by MaxPreps. A win would put Mooney in a matchup with either Tampa Catholic (13-10; 24th in Class 3A) or Calvary Christian (12-11; 18th in Class 3A) at 7 pm. on Feb. 14. 

Not that the Cougars much care about who they play. After two years of reaching the Final Four, and reaching the state championship game a season ago, Mooney is not scared of any challenger. 

Davis said she does believe there is any extra pressure to take home a state title because it is her senior year, as she always feels pressure to win every game, she said. Davis said the team is doing everything it can to make sure a return trip to the Final Four in Lakeland happens. The Cougars will worry about the rest once they get there. 

"Sometimes we come into practice tired or we're having a bad day," Barrett said. "That stuff can't matter. When we're in the gym we need to block out everything else. By the end of practice we're always laughing and having the best time, but during it we need to work. That's how we'll get back (to the state championship game)." 



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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