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Cardinal Mooney High volleyball has record-setting season

The Cougars' 18 regular season wins are the most in program history — and they're not done yet.

Chad Davis talks with his Cardinal Mooney High volleyball team following an Aug. 28 practice. Davis said he expects the Cougars to be as strong as ever in 2023.
Chad Davis talks with his Cardinal Mooney High volleyball team following an Aug. 28 practice. Davis said he expects the Cougars to be as strong as ever in 2023.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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The Cardinal Mooney High Cougars entered the 2023 regular season with haters. 

The perception outside the program, following the graduation of two-time Gatorade Florida Player of the Year Jordyn Byrd, now at the University of Texas, was that the Cougars were due for a letdown, as happens to most elite programs at some point. 

Mooney was not ready to accept that fate. The Cougars used the doubt to their advantage, wearing practice shirts that read "Prove 'em Wrong."  

Indeed, they have. 

Cardinal Mooney volleyball senior Helena Hebda is one of two seniors on the Cougars' roster.
File photo

As of Oct. 11, Mooney's record stands at 18-6. The 18 wins are the most regular-season wins in program history. 

When the Cougars won the Class 3A state title in 2019, they went just 15-10 in the regular season before rattling off seven straight wins in the postseason. 

This year's team is doing it by playing as tough a schedule as ever: while it is a down year for many teams in the Sarasota-Manatee area, the Cougars have gone to events like the Nike Tournament of Champions in Tampa and the Swing for the Cure Tournament in Orlando and performed well. At Swing for the Cure, held Oct. 6-7, Mooney went 4-1 and took home the first-place trophy in the event's Silver division, its only loss coming to Bishop Moore High (17-6), a Gold division team. 

The 2023 Cougars have one more match — a home game against local rival Venice High (16-6) at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 — before their own postseason begins. They have already proven that they still belong among the state's top tier, senior Helena Hebda said, but they also believe they still have more to show. 

The Cougars celebrate winning a point at an Oct. 9 practice session.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

"We have found the bar," Hebda said. "We have set the standard for how we need to play, especially energy-wise. We have realized that when we play with a high intensity, we are unstoppable. When our energy fluctuates, that is when we can get into a rut."

Hebda and junior libero Katie Powers said the team has been making strides all season. The Cougars do not want to plateau, the duo said. In recent weeks, the team has been focused on improving its court coverage, plus continuing seasonlong improvements made in its overpass hitting and its blocking. 

As of MaxPreps stats updated Oct. 10, junior Riley Greene leads the team in kills with 225, in blocks with 63 and in aces with 37. Hebda leads the team with 339 assists and Powers leads the team with 309 digs. 

Cougars Head Coach Chad Davis said he was "beyond proud" of the way his team has handled the outside noise and grown as a group since the beginning of the season. Part of that is due to the team's chemistry, which Davis called the best since he arrived at Mooney as an assistant coach in 2019. Davis said everyone is supportive of each other, and the captains — Hebda, Powers and junior Izzy Russell — have done a good job of keeping everyone's eyes on the long-term goals. A lack of team drama means that coaches can simply focus on improving the team, Davis said. 

Davis also called the squad the best serving team he's ever coached, going beyond his time at Mooney. He also likes how much playoff experience his upperclassmen have. 

It all adds up to a team Davis believes can make a deep run this postseason, assuming it brings its best effort each night. 

One thing still bothering the Cougars: the team's performance in its first match against Venice on Sept. 14. In what Davis called the team's worst performance of the season, Mooney was swept 3-0 — its only 3-0 loss of the season — and lost its focus after a tight 25-23 second set, dropping the final set 25-7. 

Powers said the loss was an eye-opener for the team. 

"We could have beat them and should have beat them," Powers said. "But we didn't show up. Since then, we have been working hard to make sure it doesn't happen again. And now we get to play them again. We're looking forward to it." 

Then, it's playoff time. Davis assured that his team will be prepared for whatever it faces — no matter who gives the Cougars a chance. 

"We have a group of outstanding kids that are working hard," Davis said. "It's fun being out here every day. I could not be more proud of them." 



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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