Plum volleyball turns to extensive experience for rebound

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Saturday, September 26, 2020 | 11:01 AM


The Plum girls volleyball team made the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs in 2017, going 7-5 in section play.

The past two years, however, were not as successful as a young group both seasons struggled to find its way in the section and went a combined 3-21.

But with a wealth of experience back from those teams, including the leadership of eight seniors, and a change of scenery with a drop to Class AAA, the Mustangs hope to finish what they’ve started in 2020 and make some noise in the postseason.

“We had just one senior last year, and she got injured before the season with a broken ankle,” said Plum coach Kelsey Bonk, who is in her fifth year at the helm.

“It seemed like every team we played had enormous groups of seniors, and we just had that one banner in our gym. We’ve been so young for so long. A number of the seniors were playing varsity as sophomores. Makayla Jackson’s been playing since her freshman year. Teams often go through some challenging years to get to better ones.

“When I was in high school (at Valley), we had a lot of success in softball, but my freshman year, we didn’t even make the playoffs. We were young and weren’t as experienced at the time, and the following year, we went undefeated through WPIALs.”

Plum celebrated senior night early this year with an outdoor ceremony before last Thursday’s match with McKeesport. Jackson, a middle blocker committed to play at Pitt, was honored along with classmates Megan Bologna (outside hitter/right side), Brooke Depkon (defensive specialist), Megan Franzi (setter), Francesca Iervoline (outside hitter/right side), Emma Muldowney (outside hitter/right side), Jennifer Taylor (right side/middle blocker) and Julia Vargo (defensive specialist/libero).

Jackson earned All-WPIAL honors last year, and Bologna picked up all-section recognition.

Junior defensive specialist/setter Grace Thompson also hopes for big things this year after earning starting time as a sophomore.

“The girls have all grown into their positions,” Bonk said. “They’re older and more mature. We have a lot of potential. We just have to use it. We’ve worked on setting the culture of success for this year.”

Plum, with its experience, is seen as a surefire playoff contender in Class AAA. The Mustangs share Section 1-AAA with the likes of Franklin Regional, the top-ranked team in Class AAA by the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, and Kiski Area, a playoff qualifier the past three seasons.

The Mustangs were slated to face the Cavaliers last Thursday, Penn Hills on Monday and the Panthers on Tuesday. The matches were to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.

Plum started the season 4-0 in section with victories over Greensburg-Salem, McKeesport, Indiana and Woodland Hills.

“We had the talent the last couple of years, but it just wasn’t working out for us in section,” Jackson said.

“Dropping down to Class AAA and having the eight seniors with experience, I think we can continue to be more than competitive.”

The Mustangs are scheduled to rematch with Penn Hills at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday at Plum High School.

Plum, along with the other girls volleyball teams in the WPIAL and beyond, first had to contend with the prospect of losing an entire season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. When the PIAA gave the green light to the fall sports teams, planning turned to the management of matches with a 25-person indoor limit in place.

Bonk said while each team has their own plan, she is pleased to hear things have progressed positively overall with the hopes that the restrictions can be eased before the end of the season.

“In some ways, it’s challenging, but it’s something we have to deal with,” Bonk said. “I’ve tried not to make a big deal out of it, so they don’t find it a big deal.”

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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