BRADENTON -- Cardinal Mooney's volleyball team is in search of an identity.
This according to assistant coach Joe Rohr.
Though the season is a young one, Rohr's Cougars took a giant step toward finding themselves Thursday night inside Hoagland Arena, where Cardinal Mooney beat Saint Stephen's 3-2 in each team's Class 3A-District 10 opener.
It wasn't easy. Occasionally, it wasn't pretty.
But when Michelle Mathe hammered home the final point of the night to clinch a 15-11 win in Game 5, it marked the end of a two-plus hour match that may go a long way toward shaping the Cougars' season.
"They all got together and they talked to each other and worked it out," said Rohr, who was stepped in for head coach Kristen Batt while she competed in a professional match in California. "For a team that's still fighting to form an identity, it's a really good win."
Mooney (2-2, 1-0) took the first and third games, squandered a 6-1 lead in Game 4 and trailed 10-9 in the final game. They never really had an answer for Falcons' outside hitter Tori Biach (a match-best 26 kills), but their serving, mostly from Lexi Barbour and Sarah Soscia, the latter of whom strung together four straight points in the final game, proved pivotal.
"We worked a lot on that in practice," Rohr said, "coming off (a loss) to Braden River, where we missed a ton of serves."
Hitting errors ultimately doomed the Falcons (3-1, 0-1), especially two straight in Game 5 that armed the Cougars with a 12-10 lead.
The Falcons had their moments offensively, thanks in part to Biach, Melissa Johnson (16 kills, 26 digs) and Natalie Marciniak (55 assists, five kills).
But the consistently just wasn't there, said coach Shameka Walker, whose team fell to Mooney in the finals of last year's district tournament.
"It was just an high-error game, and Cardinal Mooney, they capitalized on that," Walker said. "And they should. ... For both teams, it was a bit of a roller coaster with the errors, and basically what it came down to was we had the most inconsistencies in that Game 5."
The Falcons head to Mooney on Oct. 2, and that game will also count toward the district standings. The teams split their regular-season meetings last year, with the Cougars winning in Bradenton and Saint Stephen's doing the same in Sarasota.
So while Thursday's defeat was tough to swallow, Walker was happy her Falcons had one more crack at the defending district champs.
And maybe another.
"The advantage for them is it's at their place, but we live to fight another day," she said. "We just have to learn from our mistakes...And when we play them again, we know what it takes for us to better. And that's the all that I can expect from them -- to do the best they can.
"We do have another opportunity, so hopefully, it's a better result for us."