LAKEWOOD RANCH -- This time last year, Courtney Rapp was on the other side of the burgeoning rivalry brewing out east.
On Wednesday night, however, she was wearing Lakewood Ranch colors and playing inside Lakewood Ranch's gym, where she ran an offense that helped the Mustangs dispatch Cardinal Mooney with a 3-0 sweep.
Rapp made it look easy. And according to the senior setter, that's how easy it was to transfer to Lakewood Ranch from Braden River after her family moved prior to the start of the season.
"It wasn't strange at all. These are all my best friends, and we played together in club," Rapp said. "It was pretty awesome. We all clicked right away."
Rapp dished out 29 assists as the Mustangs (11-5) rolled past the Cougars 25-12, 25-14, 25-11.
"She has a great persona for a setter," coach Perri Hankins said. "She's very hard-working, very positive, and she can run an advanced offense. And she gets the sets to where they need to be on the court."
Hankins noted how well Rapp and Nicole Grant have worked together, a byproduct of the two being teammates during their club days. Grant had a team-best nine kills for the Mustangs.
But the Mustangs were a balanced lot, and Rapp spent the night making sure Kahlee York (seven kills) and Layne Thompson (five kills) got in on the act as well.
York, a sophomore, added nine digs and five blocks.
"All our hitters are really advanced, and they know everything that I run," Rapp said. "I played with Nicole in club and we clicked right
away in club, right off the bat. ... We can run a lot of different plays with this offense."
The Cougars (10-5) played the Mustangs close early, tying Game 1 at 7 before Lakewood Ranch scored 18 of the final 23 points. And after Mooney took a 4-2 lead in Game 2, the Mustangs went on a 7-1 run with Grant on the service line for a string of six straight points.
"I think our team was real excited about this match, about playing Cardinal Mooney. We know they're a good team and play good defense," Hankins said. "And they were battling us in the beginning, yet I think we did very well as a team. Our defense was good. I think (Wednesday) more than ever, we got the ball to the target, to where the setter was. And everything flows from there."
Lakewood Ranch opens the Manatee County tournament at 4:30 p.m. Friday in pool play against Palmetto. The tournament is hosted by Braden River and concludes Saturday afternoon.
"I think we're playing together as a team now," Hankins said, "which is what we weren't doing at the beginning of the season."