The Cougars were on the brink of defeat. Then, they dug deep.
A year after falling in the fifth set of the state championship game, the Cardinal Mooney volleyball team took Westminster Christian to the limit after appearing to be headed toward defeat. In the winner-take-all fifth set, the Cougars found the strength they knew they had all along, and defeated the Warriors 15-12 to take the match 3-2.
The Cardinal Mooney Cougars are the 2019 Class 3A champions.
"It's just a feeling of awe," senior Anna Klemeyer said. "Obviously, that did not always go the way we wanted it to [go]. We had a tough time at the beginning of the match. I'm so proud of my team. To finally get it after last year and this whole year, to finally have the recognition we worked so hard for, we're all just trying to figure out what to do. (Laughs.) We got it. It's pure satisfaction and awesome."
Down two sets to one at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, it appeared that Cardinal Mooney was headed for heartbreak yet again. The Cougars trailed 10-2, and Klemeyer admitted the team had allowed doubt to creep into its mind. But a pep talk from Sutton changed everything.
"You always have two conversations in your head," Sutton said. "One is positive and one is negative. We didn't start that set the way we wanted. When we came out of our timeout, we said 'We are not going to be denied.' On the court, we kept saying, 'Not today. Not today.' You have to have an attitude of refusing to lose. We are not doing this again.
"(Sophia) Hritz started it off. She took a big swing down 10-2, down the line, and then 'Skye' (Ashley Ekes) went off. You feed each other positive fuel. You kick the negative stuff away and focus on the job you have to get done. Man, they could have climbed any mountain today after that. They are so impressive. I am so proud of them. It was an all-in effort. Truly amazing."
The fifth set, too, found the Cougars in hot water. They took an early lead at 5-2 before Westminster charged ahead. At 9-6, things looked dicey. But another timeout allowed the Cougars to make a decision: They simply refused to lose.
"We flipped the switch," Klemeyer said. "We decided then and there that they were not going to take this from us. They were not going to deny us when we have been working so hard for this."
Denied, the Cougars were not.
Ekes led the team with 19 kills and added 10 blocks. Izabella Rae had a game-high 46 assists. Sophia Hritz had a game-high 22 digs. The Cougars made 29 total errors to Westminster's 38.