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Cardinal Mooney girls basketball moves on from state championship defeat

The Cougars lost 75-51 to Miami Country Day School on March 1 in Lakeland.

Cardinal Mooney High junior Kali Barrett shoots over Tampa Catholic's Zalani Carter. Barrett finished with 27 points in the game to help the Cougars reach the state tournament. The Cougars would eventually reach the title game for the fourth-straight season.
Cardinal Mooney High junior Kali Barrett shoots over Tampa Catholic's Zalani Carter. Barrett finished with 27 points in the game to help the Cougars reach the state tournament. The Cougars would eventually reach the title game for the fourth-straight season.
File photo
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A silver medal represents an accomplishment, but it's one that the Cardinal Mooney High girls basketball team is tired of. 

The Cougars want gold. 

Another chance at first place in Florida High School Athletic Association's Class 3A state tournament will have to wait until 2025. The program's 2024 season ended March 1 with a 75-51 loss to Miami Country Day School. 

The Cougars have now finished as state runners-up for years in a row; three of their losses have been to Miami Country Day. 

This year's Cardinal Mooney team (22-7) thought 2024 was the year things would change, as declared by junior Kali Barrett following the team's 64-40 regional championship victory over Tampa Catholic on Feb. 22. A 66-52 win over Seffner Christian (25-5) in the state semifinals did nothing to dampen the notion. But beating Miami Country Day (22-8), a program which has now won nine state titles in the last 11 years, is a different type of challenge. 

Cardinal Mooney High Head Coach Marlon Williams said he's looking forward to having almost the entire girls basketball roster back next season.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Cardinal Mooney Head Coach Marlon Williams said the difference in the game was rebounding. Williams said two early rebounds and scores by Miami Country Day senior Kayla Nelms were a warning sign that the Cougars did not have the energy required to win. The 6-foot-1 Nelms, who is ranked as the No. 50 player in the country by ESPN and has signed to play for Baylor University, finished with 24 points and nine rebounds. 

In an attempt to guard Nelms and the Spartans' other offensive threats, Barrett found herself in foul trouble. She played just 19:02 and eventually fouled out early in the fourth quarter. Barrett finished with 12 points, a team high. Freshman forward Madi Mignery, junior guard Sy'monique Simon and senior forward Sam Kotasek all had 11 points, and Mignery added 14 rebounds for a double-double. 

After the game, Williams said, the team knew it did not play to its potential. 

"They were disappointed," Williams said of his players. "You could see it in their faces. They knew it could have gone better. We just did not have that particular fire that we needed. But we're going to reset and try to accomplish the goal we have set out to accomplish." 

The season ended with a lopsided loss, but Williams said he was proud of the progress his program made from the season's beginning to its end, particularly in terms of the team's movement on offense, both with and without the ball. Knowing when to make an extra pass — and when not to — can be the difference between scoring and being stifled, Williams said. By the season's end, his team was putting that knowledge to use. 

Defensively, Williams said he liked how the team continued to improve its man-to-man defense, though things like rebounding can always be better than they are, as exemplified in the state title game. 

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

Mooney will have as good a chance to get back to the state tournament for a fifth time in 2024 as anyone. The Cougars are set to return their entire roster save for Kotasek, who will graduate this spring. Barrett led the team with 14.8 points per game and should be just as big a scoring threat as a senior, but all of the Cougars contribute in some way, which is what makes them a difficult out in the postseason. Five Cougars averaged six or more points per game, and three averaged six or more rebounds per game. More growth in those areas will only make the team more dangerous, and perhaps lead them to a fifth-straight state title appearance. 

Williams, who just finished year two as the program's bench boss, said the opportunity to stick with the same group of players for so long is a coach's dream. 

"Going into the third year (next year), the girls know what I want and how I like to do things," Williams said. "They know we want to be aggressive on the defensive end. I think things like that will only sink in more." 

Beyond the on-court results, Williams said he was happy to see more fans out at the team's late-season games than have attended in the past. The girls deserve the community support, he said, as does girls basketball in general. 

"It's good basketball to watch," Williams said. "The girls play hard. So if you want to see good basketball, come out and watch." 



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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