If this is what the No. 4 seed looks like, national powers Tampa Prep and Berkeley Prep had better look out.
The Academy of the Holy Names, widely considered the fourth-best team in the state's most competitive high school volleyball district, served notice Wednesday that it is a force to be reckoned with when it recovered from a one-game deficit to spank Sarasota-Cardinal Mooney, the third-ranked team in the state Class 3A poll, 3-15, 15-7, 15-1.
The Jaguars (17-8), ranked No.
6 in 3A, got five kills each from Karla Jones and Andrea Koenig and three of their eight service aces from Maureen Reilly. Kyleen Charlton also turned in an inspired performance as a substitute setter.
Earlier in the day, Cardinal Mooney (24-5) had been awarded the top seed in next week's district tournament _ to be played at Academy's gym _ ahead of Tampa Prep, No. 1 in 3A and 13th in one national poll, and Berkeley, second in the state poll and 12th nationally.
The Academy, which appeared disorganized in the first game Wednesday _ especially in its passing _ rallied with a no-holds-barred style that had players diving for digs, rescuing balls out of the net and slamming kills that went into the net, but somehow crawled over for winners.
"My girls dug deep; we're a good serving and passing team," said Academy coach Margo Hunt, who saw her team avenge a three-game loss to the Cougars earlier this season. "After the first game, we adjusted and played together. Kyleen took control and became the quarterback and Karla Jones got the ball down when it needed to be down."
With starting setter Saioa Torrealday sick _ the Jaguars brought freshman Sarah Tarrant up from the junior varsity to give them eight players Wednesday _ Charlton was thrust into the role of playmaker. The sophomore, one of the county's top basketball prospects but a relative volleyball novice, appeared overmatched early, "but we went after every single ball after that; you have to go out and fly for every ball and get on the ground if you want to beat this team," Charlton said.
After a lackluster first game, the Academy grabbed an 8-0 lead in Game 2 before the Cougars scored seven unanswered points, primarily on the strength of Lauren Hassler's serve. But a run of passing errors and some long kill attempts by Cardinal Mooney helped to even the match.
With Charlton serving in the rubber game, the Jaguars jumped out to a 4-0 lead and built their cushion to 6-0. Koenig had four kills in the decisive game, including two in a row that she mishit into the net, but topspin carried the ball over and down for winners to make it 12-1.
"We just fell apart," said Cougars coach Kim Kelly-Woodruff. "Being the top seed in the district doesn't mean a thing if we play like this."
Earlier Wednesday, district coaches agreed on the seedings for next week's 3A-6 district tournament. Despite Tampa Prep's and Berkeley Prep's national recognition, Cardinal Mooney was awarded the top seed because it has a better record against Florida teams in 3A or higher classifications, said Academy coach Margo Hunt.
The top two Tampa schools play a variety of out-of-state powers.
The Academy won Class 2A state titles in 1976 and 1977, but the Jaguars have failed to produce a district winner since.