Last season, Bishop McLaughlin ran through the Class 3A district and region tournaments, and made the state semifinals with a 29-0 record. The Hurricanes went on to finish 30-1 after a loss to Doral Divine Savior Academy in the final.
This year’s road to the state tournament is much more difficult.
With seven classifications instead of nine, Clearwater Central Catholic (16-3) and Calvary Christian (21-2) dropped into Class 3A.
Those two teams are among the top 10 in the entire state, regardless of classification, according to MaxPreps. Calvary Christian is ranked fourth and Clearwater Central Catholic seventh. Bishop McLaughlin (21-3), meanwhile, is 19th overall.
And it’s not just the local teams that are tough in 3A. Ocala Trinity Catholic (16-6), the No. 5-ranked team in the state, moved in from 5A. Sarasota Cardinal Mooney (14-9) played in the 5A state final in 2018.
During the regular season, CCC beat both Calvary Christian and Bishop McLaughlin (twice). By the time the region finals roll around, and assuming they all make it out of districts, two of those three teams will be eliminated.
“You’ve got three in the top seven,” Bishop McLaughlin coach Dough Chinchar said. “After the first two rounds, two of them will have to go home. That’s tough. The way we look at it, we’ll play as well as we can and if we lose, we will root for whoever beats us to win the state championship.”
CCC won a 3A state title in 2014. The next year the Marauders bounced up to 4A. Now that they have moved back down, CCC coach Stephen Shepherd sees some parallels between now and then.
“Before they expanded, in 2014 when we won it, I thought 3A was the toughest class,” Shepherd said. “Then they bumped us up to 4A. Now that we’re back down to 3A, it’s back to like it was then. It’s the toughest class.”
Calvary Christian is the top seed in District 6. CCC is the No. 2 seed. Bishop McLaughlin is the top seed in District 5. Carrollwood Day (16-7), which won a Class 4A state title in 2017, is the No. 2 seed.
When district tournaments start next week, teams need to be at their best. That is especially true in 3A.
“Whoever comes out of this region will be tested and ready to play any team,” Shepherd said.