Plum girls look to build off historic trip to postseason

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Thursday, December 2, 2021 | 2:56 PM


When Rich Mull took over the reigns of the Plum girls basketball program in August, he was anxious to get going full speed ahead with a youthful group of players he knew had the potential to do great things.

From workouts and games in the fall to now being fully immersed in preparation for the start of the regular season, Mull feels a strong sense of optimism for the team’s upward trajectory.

“It’s been really positive,” said Mull, a former Plum boys coach at the junior high and junior varsity levels.

“The girls had been working hard all summer. The later start for me with the girls was a little challenging. With some of the girls who played fall sports, there was some catching up to do. But they all came in with good attitudes and were ready to work. They’ve all been really receptive to what we’re doing.”

Plum weaved its way through a 2020-21 season impacted WPIAL and state wide by the ongoing covid pandemic. The Mustangs finished 7-8 overall and 6-6 in Section 2-5A.

A 44-31 preliminary-round victory over Lincoln Park was the program’s first playoff win in nearly two decades and only the second in program history.

The good feelings of the win turned into frustration as covid issues prevented Plum from continuing on in the postseason. It had to forfeit a first-round game at Chartiers Valley.

Plum is moving on after the graduation of two-time Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year Kennedie Montue who averaged 23.3 points a game last year and now is a freshman on the women’s team at Division I Oakland (Mich.).

The Mustangs also said goodbye to starter Jamie Seneca, who just completed her freshman soccer season at Gannon.

“Losing a 23-point-a-game player might be intimidating, but I think our scoring will be more spread around this year,” senior guard and returning starter Kai Johnson said.

“Everyone is going to be a part of it.”

Johnson is the lone senior on a team which features three juniors, five sophomores and 10 freshmen.

“There’s going to be that one lonesome (senior) banner,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I am excited for my senior year. I am a natural-born leader, so I enjoy being in a leadership position, especially this year with how many young players we have, including a large group of freshmen. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know the girls and how talented they are.”

Also back as a starter is an experienced forward in junior Dannika Susko.

“This team is really coming together in practices as we work on our skills and see what we need to get better at,” Susko said.

“We were doing a shooting drill today in practice, and it started off a little slow. But by the end, we picked it up so much better. We could see that improvement in just one day. It’s really cool to see everyone’s full potential. We just need to keep that type of thing going. I think the sky’s the limit for this team.”

Also returning to form the core for Plum is sophomore guard Megan Marston, a starter last year as a freshman, as well as junior Cam Rogers and sophomore Rayla Smith.

Mull said sophomore forward Pascale Olczak and freshman guard Taylor Stephans are among those younger players who hope to make their mark at the varsity level.”

“The freshmen and even the sophomores are like sponges, just taking in all the instruction from the coaches,” Mull said.

Plum finished tied with Mars for fourth in the section last year. Hampton is the defending champion, and Fox Chapel and Armstrong are looking to remain near the top of the section standings. Indiana and Kiski Area also are hoping to make their mark in the section.

“(The section) will be challenging to say the least,” Mull said. “Being a relatively young team, it depends on continuing to get comfortable with the system and what we want to do. We’re going to have to work hard every day. Nothing is going to come easy for us.”

Mull is assisted by former Plum standout Maria Lawhorne, who most recently completed a strong collegiate career at Washington & Jefferson, as well as former Apollo-Ridge girls coach Mike Monstrola, and longtime Plum boys volunteer assistant Randy Riggs.

Plum will test its mettle as it opens the season Dec. 10-11 at the Freeport Tip-Off Tournament. Fox Chapel and Highlands also will be in action over the two days of games.

Plum girls at a glance

Coach: Rich Mull

Last year’s record: 7-8 (6-6 Section 2-5A)

Returning starters: Kai Johnson (Sr., G), Dannika Susko (Jr., F), Megan Marston (So., G)

Top newcomer: Taylor Stephans (Fr., G)

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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