Plum girls volleyball turns attention to PIAA playoffs

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Sunday, November 7, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The Plum girls volleyball team had its sights set on the WPIAL Class 3A championship game as it faced Hampton in the semifinals Nov. 2 at Gateway.

The Mustangs won a pair of close games, 26-24, to jump out to a 2-0 lead in the match. However, the Talbots rallied to win the next two games and force a deciding Game 5.

In that final game, the teams went back and forth, trading points until Hampton closed out a 16-14 victory to punch its ticket to the finals.

It was a tough pill to swallow for the Mustangs players, but coach Kelsey Bonk said she made sure they knew it was OK to have emotions after a loss in a big game like that.

“All that shows is that you care,” Bonk said. “They cared so much and had invested so much time in being ready to get to the WPIAL finals. Despite losing the lead and with our backs against the wall, the girls continued to fight hard in that fifth game. They really wanted to win that match, but there’s no shame in losing as long as they are giving the effort and are playing smart.

“They should be proud of all that they have accomplished this year, including the run in the (WPIAL) playoffs.”

Bonk also was quick to remind the girls that they still had a lot ahead of them in terms of a trip to the PIAA playoffs.

All four WPIAL Class 3A semifinalists already had clinched berths to the state tournament, which was to begin Tuesday.

Plum knew it was going to be slotted as the third or fourth team from the WPIAL, but had to wait to see who they would play based on the winner of last Saturday’s WPIAL championship match between Hampton and Freeport.

The WPIAL uses the follow-the-leader format to determine the order of state qualifiers from the WPIAL.

Plum also was a WPIAL semifinalist last year, but was denied a trip to states because of the PIAA’s covid restrictions that limited the tournament to just district champs.

“They have the opportunity they didn’t even get last year,” Bonk said. “Last year, we had lost that one game in the (WPIAL) semifinals, and that was it. We didn’t get the chance to redeem ourselves. We were like, ‘OK, season’s over.’ I asked the girls if any of them had been to states in any other sport. They all said no. I had gotten the chance to go to states for softball when I was in high school, and I told them that it was such a cool experience. Going to states is not like a normal thing. It’s not common. I think they came into practice realizing that and were energized to go after it.”

Plum finished Section 1 play in a three-way tie for the title with Franklin Regional and Indiana. The Mustangs entered the playoffs 15-2 overall, and they were positioned as the No. 7 seed.

Plum made quick work of No. 10 Central Valley, 3-0, in the first round. The Mustangs then toppled No. 2 Thomas Jefferson, 3-1, in the quarterfinals.

The Jaguars had spent a couple of weeks as the No. 1 team in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class 3A rankings, and they went undefeated to win the Section 3 title.

“We had a discussion at the beginning of practice (last Wednesday) about where we were at the beginning of the season, mentally and physically and where we are now,” Bonk said.

“It’s a huge difference. We had to really understand that we weren’t going to be the same team we were last year. We had lost all of our height and were replacing almost every position. Even the girls who were back were moving into new roles. It was just about understanding how we could become a high-quality team with all of the changes. The girls really understood the mental side of the game and got better at their volleyball IQ. Without the height and some other things, we knew we had to play smart volleyball.”

Junior middle hitter Dannika Susko said the Thomas Jefferson upset was a special feeling for team.

“Our defense is what really held us together,” she said. “Our serving was really tough against them, too, because that gave them less options in the front row. They had to go to the outside, and our block was ready.

“When Sam (Glatz) got that ace to finish it off, I turned around and just didn’t have the words. I just smiled at Sam. I was just so happy. We knew we had what it took to get that win. We just needed to execute our game plan, and we did that.”

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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