The way the 2020 season ended for Mosley couldn't have been much more disappointing. One of the top teams in Region 1, the Dolphins failed to make it out of the district tournament when a random draw pitted them against district champion Wakulla, which took its second five-set victory of the season over Mosley in the league semifinals.
The 2021 season has been full of redemption and triumph for the Dolphins, who have won 21 games, a district championship, and the program's first region championship, and will go for more history Saturday when they host Ocala Vanguard in the 5A state semifinals at 1 p.m.
Perhaps no one has enjoyed the turnaround and the run of success more than the Dolphins' three seniors – Haile Hallmon, Liberty McLean, and Madison Kinard – who will get a chance to send Mosley to the state championship match in their final appearance at Jim Redfern Gymnasium.
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"It's crazy, it really goes by so fast," McLean said about the nearing end of her prep career. "You have to take it one game at a time and not take it all for granted. I really think we're gonna play our hearts out on Saturday, especially with it being our last home game."
The Dolphins earned the home game, their sixth in a row of the postseason dating back to the district tournament, with a dominant season that resulted in them earning the No. 1 seed in Region 1-5A.
Mosley swept the first two rounds of the playoffs against Seabreeze and Middleburg, then took a four-set win over Ridgeview to advance to the program's first final four and just the second for any Bay County volleyball team. Rutherford's 1986 team led by coach Ken Brown was the only other county squad to make it to the state semifinals.
McLean said she's not surprised by the success that the Dolphins have had and that it was clear very early in the process that this could be a special group.
"I think right from the beginning of summer workouts we figured we had a serious chance this year," she said. "We were just super excited. We had a lot of talent in this team and we all got along really well, we knew it would be a great year from the start."
The team has gotten big contributions from a pair of junior transfers in Alysia Fingall and Kumara Flanagain, while a loaded sophomore class featuring the likes of Marley Middlebrooks, Jordan Iferd, Sterling Painter, and Maritza Eddington has helped fill the gaps left by the departure of last year's senior class of Ragan Kinard, Jalei Jomalon, and Emma Robertson.
As for this year's seniors, they've seen more Mosley volleyball than any of their younger teammates, and experienced plenty of success with a region final in 2018 and a region semifinal in 2019.
Hallmon said that, as good as their previous Mosley teams were, she could see pretty early on that this group had the ability to be better than any of them.
"Really over the four years of playing with four different teams at Mosley, I could really see the true potential of this team," she said. 'Even from the beginning of the summer we knew that this was the team and we've been trying constantly to say it, that we have the big goals of trying to make it to state and that this is the team that can do it."
If the Dolphins' own talent and success weren't enough to provide the belief that they could make history as the county's first volleyball team to win a state title, they could merely look across the hall on their campus for inspiration.
It was just six months ago that the Mosley baseball team captured a state championship of its own, the second in school history and the first in nearly 20 years. Madison Kinard said that she has looked to the baseball team, not just for inspiration, but also for guidance in how to complete a state run.
"I'm friends with a lot of the baseball players and them getting to the end like that and winning was way better for the seniors and gave them some closure and I feel like it would do the same for us," she said. "We saw the Arnold (boys) soccer team get a state championship, our baseball team got a state championship ... having that inspiration from them is a lot. When I talked to them about what we needed to do more, they said it was just a mindset flip and I really feel like we've flipped that mindset for us."
That mindset was perhaps no better illustrated than in the region final win over Ridgeview when the Dolphins dropped the first set 27-25 before coming right back to win the next three.
Of course that confidence comes from more than a mindset, it comes from a wealth of preparation and film study that has served the Dolphins well so far and Kinard said would do so again on Saturday.
"We're honestly really confident," she said. "We do our homework on the teams very well. Whenever they walk into the gym we know their names, we know their stats, we know their Instagram bios, we know everything about them. Whenever they come in we feel comfortable that we know what we have to do to get the job done."
If the Dolphins can get it done once more, they'll get to make the trip to Fort Myers for the 5A state championship game on Nov. 17 against the winner of the other semifinal between Merritt Island and Barron Collier. For the Mosley seniors, it's a scenario four years in the making.
"It's honestly crazy, I've been dreaming of this day since I started playing here at Mosley," Hallmon said. "I was always hoping for the opportunity to compete for a state championship and it's finally come true and I'm really excited. I think we're really capable. It's unreal because I've been playing in this gym for four years now and I really plan on leaving here on a good note."
Mask said she couldn't envision a better way for the three seniors to go out in their final game in front of the home fans.
"To go out playing in the final four with a state championship on the line, to make your last game as a senior at home at Mosley the final four, that's the epitome of an ending," she said. "It doesn't get any greater than playing a final four match at home. To end your senior season on that kind of a note is just awesome."
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL: Mosley seniors McLean, Hallmon, Kinard hope to end 'on a good note'