Venice vanquished in Class 6A state semifinal

For the Cardinal Mooney High School volleyball team, Chad Sutton’s Cougars lived to play another day, that day being Saturday for the Class 3A state title.

But for Brian Wheatley’s Venice High team, his young Indians couldn’t match the depth and talent presented by the squad from Tallahassee Leon.

Avenging last year’s title loss to Ocala Trinity Christian, the Cougars advanced to their second straight championship appearance on Saturday by defeating the Celtics, 3-2, 21-25, 25-19, 25-23, 24-26, 15-13, in a 3A state semifinal match at Ocala Trinity Christian High School.

The Indians fell to the host Lions, 3-0, 25-17, 25-15, 26-24, in a Class 6A state semifinal, ending the Indians’ season at 17-13.

The 23-7 Cougars will face Miami Westminster Christian (27-4) on Saturday night at 6:30 at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers for the Class 3A state title.

“I just think for us the kids had been working hard on the game plan for this match,” Sutton said. “Their energy coming into the match just felt like they were just not going to be denied.”

Mooney lost the first game before winning the next two to go up 2-1. Sutton’s team had a match point in the fourth game, but lost 26-24, forcing a fifth game to 15 points.

“We went and huddled going into the fifth set,” Sutton said. “The girls’ eyes, they all looked at us and from that point on, I knew they were just not going to go down without a fight. They went out and did their jobs.”

Sutton had praise for Sophia Hritz, who finished with 16 kills and 17 digs.

“She played fantastic,” Sutton said. “She had a look today as if she wasn’t going to lose this match.”

Mary Page had 11 kills and 11 digs; Skye Ekes 12 kills and seven blocks; Anna Klemeyer seven kills and three blocks; Jordyn Byrd four kills and four blocks; Madison Brown 11 digs; and Bella Rae 36 assists.

“I just want to say how incredibly proud we are of the kids,” Sutton said. “They’ve been working their tails off since the moment we lost last year to try and give themselves another shot at this.

“The girls, the parents, the parents give us so much trust. It’s just done the way I think it should be done.”

As for the Indians, they took on a Leon team ranked No. 1 in the state that came in with a record of 27-3. Two years ago the Indians beat the Lions for the state title. Last year they fell to Plant in the title game.

“We knew we had an uphill battle coming up here,” Wheatley said. “Leon was definitely the better team. A lot more weapons.

“We fought until the end and we just lost to a better team. I’m just super proud of my team and it really is amazing how far this team has come after losing 10 seniors. To go back to the Final Four was just really incredible and a tribute to how hard our kids worked.”

Venice’s Paeden Keller had 13 kills, Kiki Montgomery had 12 and Sadie Kluner 11. Ashley Reynolds had 38 assists and Ireland Ferguson had 17 digs.


PONTE VEDRA — The Port Charlotte High volleyball team had no answer for the big hits of freshman Zeta Washington and a variety of impressive Ponte Vedra serves in the Class 6A state semifinals Saturday.

The Sharks (24-6) took the momentum early and never looked back in a 3-0 (25-21,25-15,25-2) win over the Pirates at the Shark Tank.

Port Charlotte (17-13) fell behind 12-3 before rallying to make things interesting in the first set. Junior Azyah Dailey led the way with four kills.

Neither team took control in the early going of the second set. Ponte Vedra opened up a 15-7 lead and held on to take a 2-0 lead. Dailey once again led the way at the net with three kills and a block.

The final set was much like the opening set as the Sharks led 6-2 early and the Pirates would rally but fall short. Dailey finished strong with seven more kills.

Seniors Zoe Burkhart and Kiersten Tisdale closed out their impressive high school careers one win short of the state championship match. They were a key part of three straight district championships and a region championship.