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East County athletes help send Cougars girls basketball to states

The Cardinal Mooney girls basketball team has reached the Class 3A state tournament four years in a row but have yet to win the title.

Cardinal Mooney High junior Kali Barrett celebates a made three-point attempt against Tampa Catholic in the regional championship game. Barrett finished with 27 points.
Cardinal Mooney High junior Kali Barrett celebates a made three-point attempt against Tampa Catholic in the regional championship game. Barrett finished with 27 points.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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After hoisting her girls basketball team's regional championship trophy alongside her teammates, Cardinal Mooney junior forward Kali Barrett wiped tears from her eyes. 

The East County athlete has been here before, as this will be her third-straight trip to the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A state tournament in Lakeland, and this will be the Cougars' fourth-straight trip. Cardinal Mooney (21-6) will take on Seffner Christian (25-4) at 1 p.m. Feb. 28. The winner will advance to the state championship game on March 1. 

The state tournament is functionally a final four and Cardinal Mooney program has yet win the title. Cardinal Mooney is going back because of a 64-40 home win over Tampa Catholic (21-7) on Feb. 22 in the regional finals. 

Barrett and the Cougars are determined to change their state tournament fate. Barrett said the tears she shed after the regional title win came because she believes now is Cardinal Mooney's time. 

"This is the year," Barrett said with a smile. 

Barrett's teammates include fellow East County athletes in Madi Mignery, a freshman forward; Talia Busser, a sophomore guard; and Avery Davis, a junior guard. 

The 6-foot-2 Barrett, who holds NCAA Division I offers from the University of Dayton and George Mason University among 13 other schools, leads the way. She is averaging 14.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game and can elevate her game even further when necessary. Against Tampa Catholic, Barrett scored 27 points. Barrett's optimism about her team's fate doesn't stem solely from her own performances, though. This year's Cardinal Mooney squad is deeper than in any of its previous three runs to the state tournament, Barrett said. 

Cardinal Mooney High freshman Madi Mignery drives past Tampa Catholic's Zalani Carter for a basket. Mignery finished with 12 points.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The 6-foot-1 Mignery's arrival has given the Cougars someone who can play in the post as well as bring the ball up court and drive to the basket. Mignery averages 10.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game and plays sticky defense. Against Tampa Catholic, Mignery had 12 points and either blocked or redirected several shots in the paint on defense, which the team routinely turned into transition offense. 

The other East County members of the team, Busser (6.7 points per game) and Davis (1.7 points per game), play smaller roles off the bench, but the Cougars also get big contributions from Sarasota-area athletes like junior guards Sy'monique Simon (12.2 points, 5.8 rebounds per game), Bri Behn (7.9 points, 3.5 assists per game) and senior forward Sam Kotasek (4.1 points per game). Under direction from Head Coach Marlon Williams, the Cougars emphasize defense, yet have potent scorers. The result is a team that can win games in multiple ways. 

It is also a team that spent the first half of its season trying to find itself. The Cougars had an 8-6 record at the end of 2023. The calendar year was capped with a 59-35 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas High (21-9) on Dec. 30 at the Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational, held at the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex in Wesley Chapel. 

"We got our butts kicked," Barrett said. 

The loss was the low point of the team's season, Barrett said, but it was also the moment the team realized things needed to change. There had to be more focus, more hustle and more energy. 

Mooney has not lost a game since. 

Though getting to the state tournament has become the expectation for the Cardinal Mooney program, Mignery is new to it all as a freshman. She spent the regional title celebration hugging her teammates, but remained dry-eyed. Mignery was glad her team won, but was already thinking about what still remains. 

"I'm excited, but we have two games left to win," Mignery said. "We have to have a 'one game at a time' mentality and keep working as hard as we can. We have a lot more to prove." 

Mignery said her physical play in the paint comes naturally. She loves to disrupt opponents and frustrate them, she said. Not only is it good for her team, she said, but it awakens the crowd, which provides Mignery with even more energy. Mignery is a style of player Cardinal Mooney has not had in past visits to the state tournament. 

The team's East County contingent will need to stay sharp against Seffner Christian, though they will enter as the favorite. The Crusaders are ranked No. 4 in Class 3A and No. 19 in Florida by MaxPreps, while Cardinal Mooney is ranked No. 2 in Class 3A and No. 13 in Florida. 



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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