High School Sports

Prep volleyball | Cardinal Mooney dethrones Out-of-Door Academy in 3A-10 final

BRADENTON -- One after another, Keri McMahon's serves weren't just getting over the net.

They were leaving marks.

The Cardinal Mooney junior outside hitter had several big runs from the service line in leading the Cougars to Thursday's Class 3A-District 10 volleyball championship against Out-of-Door Academy at Bradenton Christian.

"They did a great job of serving their targets really well, and that definitely affected our offense," ODA head coach Stefanie Betz said.

Mooney earned a 25-22, 25-27, 25-17, 25-22 victory to earn the program's first district title since 2011.

As the district champs, Mooney hosts Clearwater Calvary Christian in next Wednesday's 3A-Region 3 quarterfinal. ODA is at Clearwater Central Catholic. The four teams represented their districts last fall, but the roles are reversed from District 10 this season.

The Cougars fell to ODA in last year's final, but get to avoid CCC, which made the state semifinals in 2013, this year.

And it was due to the service game and defensive prowess.

"I think our defense was huge (Thursday)," Cougars head coach Kristen Batt said. "We took a lot of balls off of them ,and that can sometimes rattle the hitters on the other side a little bit."

A chief contributor was McMahon, who tallied 10 kills, 10 digs and five aces. And a key to McMahon's service plan was avoiding ODA libero Cameron Graham.

"I was just trying to keep it in the court," McMahon said. "But I knew to serve away from Cameron, the libero, because she is, we thought, the best passer. So we practiced (Wednesday) in practice to keep it away from her and serve away from her, so that was my main goal. But also to keep it in the court."

McMahon's floating serves were problematic for ODA during the first game. On two separate occasions, McMahon went on a tear. She produced a six-point run and a four-point run, with the latter coming at the end of the game.

"I have had a few runs, but not, I don't think, that big before," McMahon said. "It was like an adrenaline rush or something."

In addition to McMahon's heroics, Maddie McNally's 11 kills, Maria Soscia's 22 digs, Alexis James' seven kills and Brooke Picchi's six kills also paced the Cougars.

"She kind of floats it," Batt said of McMahon's serving. "One of our big things was to know that they have good passers and to try and to keep them out of system to keep their hitters from hitting at the net."

Following Tuesday's district semifinal, Betz said her club hadn't produced its best volleyball against Mooney this year.

After Thursday's district final, Betz said she was pleased with how her team performed, despite losing in four games.

"Compared to the last two times we played them, we really fought tooth and nail a lot more than before," Betz said. "Before when we played them, we went to four once. Not that we played terribly by any means, but we definitely had those dips in confidence and kind of kept dipping. And (Thursday), I think we did a better job of bouncing back."

ODA had 80 team digs, with Greta Holland (18) and Graham (17) leading the way. Natalie Buffett's dynamic play yielded 18 kills, while Reanna Gregory added five blocks.