SARASOTA -- The Cardinal Mooney volleyball team is peaking, head coach Kristen Batt said.
It couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Cougars are without Rachel Schwartz, who injured her foot and cannot put weight on it for three weeks, Batt said.
That meant Mooney was forced to shuffle its lineup for the third straight matchup.
But even with the alterations, the Cougars breezed through the Class 3A-District 10 semifinal against Bradenton Christian on Tuesday.
Mooney, the tournament hosts and No. 2 seed, swept the Panthers 3-0 (25-19, 25-18, 25-14).
“We had a steady progression throughout the season, and now we’re in playoff mode,” Batt said. “We’re playing really well ... our entire season has helped us for this point, because have not had an easy match all season.”
Playing off the high-energy from the home crowd support, Mooney opened up a six-point lead early in the first game before closing out BCS.
Aside from falling behind at the beginning of the second and third games, the Cougars ran roughshod over the senior-laden Panthers, who finished the season with an 18-6 record.
“We just didn’t want it as bad,” head coach Greg Geraldson said. “I think we’re as good a team. We just weren’t, you could see the swinging wasn’t there and the passing was real tight to the net.”
The loss means BCS will miss the state tournament for the first time since 2007, and it’s just the fourth time that the program won’t book a state tourney appearance in Geraldson’s 12 years as head coach.
But as the Panthers three-year postseason streak ended, the Cougars (16-10) continued theirs.
Mooney has advanced to state every year dating back to 1995, but the program hasn’t claimed a district title since 2004.
The Cougars victory sets up a showdown against Saint Stephen’s, which defeated the Out-of-Door Academy in Tuesday’s first semifinal, for the district championship scheduled for Thursday night. Both clubs split the two regular season meetings.
Annie Montgomery (13 kills, six aces), Emili Cicora (32 assists), Katie Cermak (seven kills), Hanna McMahon (13 digs), Sarah Soscia (14 digs, six kills) and Michelle Mathe (six kills) led the Cougars.
The Panthers received standout performances from Laura Moreno (five kills), Abi Van Ostenbridge (five kills, 14 assists), Madison Putnam (nine assists), Emilee Womack (five kills) and Chynna Ratner (eight kills, 15 digs).
Moreno, Van Ostenbridge, Putnam, Womack, Ratner, Lizzi Judge and Lexi Walther round out the departing seniors for next year’s club.
SAINT STEPHEN’S 3, OUT-OF-DOOR ACADEMY 1 -- The No. 1-seeded Falcons (20-6) avoided a letdown after dropping the third game in running out Game 4 in comfortable fashion to book a spot in the district championship slated for Thursday night. They won by scores of 25-16, 25-22, 22-25 and 25-13.
“I just told them that they had to, this is a brand new game, and they had to have a better start and play Saint Stephen’s volleyball,” Falcons head coach Shameka Walker said. “Because the third game wasn’t a recognizable Saint Stephen’s volleyball team. I just told them they have to do a better job communicating and just a better team play.”
Walker’s club was buoyed by the play of Melissa Johnson (21 kills, 11 digs), Tori Biach (14 kills, 12 digs) and Natalie Marciniak (46 assists, 13 digs).
Meanwhile, ODA (9-14) loses two seniors -- Kate Douglas and Sammi Jo Gaeta -- from a group that witnessed coaching changes over the course of the season once Keba Phipps resigned on Sept. 9.