Plum volleyball going through growing pains

Friday, April 27, 2018 | 11:00 PM

Plum held its annual boys volleyball tournament April 21, and the Mustangs didn't advance to the playoff round, but they got a good look at what separates the best teams in the WPIAL from others.

Mustangs coach Keith Nonnenberg intently watched the semifinals between Butler and Bethel Park, and Deer Lakes and Altoona, as well as the championship match in which Bethel Park prevailed over Deer Lakes. He said he witnessed an impressive display of volleyball and came away with a message to his team about what it takes to become one of the elites.

“I told my kids on the bus ride out (to Armstrong on Monday) in those three games there wasn't a single service error,” Nonnenberg said. “Those teams are certainly good at limiting mistakes. They made very few hitting errors. They get their hands on just about everything at the net. There are very few attacks that don't go unchallenged.”

It was only four years ago Plum was among those elite teams. In 2015, the Mustangs ended North Allegheny's eight-year dynasty as WPIAL Class AAA champs with a 3-2 win in the quarterfinals and came within one match of making the state playoffs.

Since then, the program has fallen on some trying times, including this season in which they have won only one game. The lone victory was against Gateway in Section 3-AAA play.

For Nonnenberg, who took over in December for his second stint as coach after leaving in 2006, there's a way to get back in the conversation of elite programs, but it will take some time.

“It's not an easy process. When I left coaching in 2006, we had made the playoffs six years in a row. We had a team that was ranked second in the WPIAL, and I think fifth in the state, but that doesn't just happen overnight,” Nonnenberg said. “We have to get kids into the program and now, even more that when I was coaching in 2006, kids almost have to play in the offseason. They all play club volleyball. If you don't play club volleyball, you're probably not going to be competitive.”

No one on the current roster plays on a club team. Nonnenberg said 6-foot-4 freshman Alex Vidas is being pursued by club teams and expects him to play on the club circuit in the winter.

The Mustangs have four seniors — Frank Czura, Will Marzina, Mason McAndrew and Jake Innes — who Nonnenberg praised for their work ethic and dedication to the program. Barring a late-season surge, he said he is going to work some underclassmen into the rotation to get them varsity experience to benefit them going forward.

“We have to get to kids prepared to compete not just for this year, but for subsequent years,” Nonnenberg said. “Of our four seniors, two of them have been in the program for four years and the other two have been in the program for three years. I want to be mindful of the fact that they have put in a lot of time and put forth a lot of effort, so I'm not going to completely cut out their playing time, but I have to look ahead to the future.”

Nonnenberg took the job right before Christmas, so he hasn't had a full offseason to work with the team. He's looking forward to the chance to put a full offseason program in.

“We have a long way to go as far as getting athletes into the program and then getting them enough work, so that they progress,” Nonnenberg said. “We'll work out in the fall and in the winter as a team. We'll look for some local tournaments and have open gyms at least once a week.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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