BRADENTON -- Grayson Barton isn't the only coach who took over a program just a handful of weeks before the season began. He, however, isn't from the area and didn't have a prior relationship with any of the Cardinal Mooney players he's now been coaching for a little more than three weeks.
His first three games with the Cougars didn't go well -- Mooney was swept by Palm Harbor University, Sarasota Riverview and Tampa Berkeley Prep.
His fourth game finally brought a victory. Cardinal Mooney overcame a disastrous start to beat host Braden River 3-1 (22-25, 25-19, 25-20, 25-19) on Wednesday.
"Good to get the first one down," Barton said. "We still have a long way to go."
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The match didn't just begin with a loss, but also a massive hole in the first set. The Cougars (1-3) took the first two points before an error by Sophia Kebda sent service over to the Pirates. With three more Mooney errors, BRHS (0-2) reeled off 10 straight points to put Cardinal Mooney in a 10-2, opening-set hole.
"Runs of three will get you home, but right now we're giving up runs more than we're taking them," Barton said. "It'll come along."
The Cougars lost the set, but scored 20 of the final 35 points to take momentum into the next three sets.
The second set was tied at 12-12 when Mooney finally surged ahead. The Cougars scored five straight points with defensive specialist Lauren Medinis serving to go up by seven, and tied the match with a set-ending ace by middle blocker Brooke Picchi.
The pressure had finally swung all the way to the Pirates by the fourth and final set after Madison McNally and Keri McMahon combined for eight kills in the third set. Another run by BRHS in the fourth set, though, turned a solid Cougar lead into a deficit. This run lasted only nine points, and brought Braden River from down five to up four. Once again, Mooney needed an answer.
The turnaround came when McMahon went to the service line. Another kill had cut the Pirates' lead to 17-15 as the outside hitter began to serve. McNally started Cardinal Mooney with one kill and then blocked another. After two BRHS errors, the outside hitter finished the rally with one more block to put the Cougars ahead, 20-17, and on their way to a first win.
"When we get down usually we just get back to our fundamentals," Barton said. "I tell them whenever things seem lost just resort back to your fundamentals. For a while there we weren't getting our defense around the block, but we made a couple changes."