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Plum volleyball turns focus to future

| Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, 10:30 p.m.

When the season began, Plum girls volleyball had several goals set, including improving its standing within Section 4-AAAA and making a return trip to the playoffs.

Through the long and winding season that featured a midseason coaching change those goals were met.

Plum finished solidly in third in Section 4 and made the postseason for the second consecutive year. The No. 13-seeded Mustangs fell to No. 4 Baldwin, 3-1, in the first round.

Carly Bonk started the season as coach, but after she got a job with the Minnesota Vikings and moved away, her fraternal twin sister, Kelsey, took over. Kelsey Bonk was an assistant and junior varsity coach before the change. Her familiarity with the team made the transition smooth.

The Mustangs went 3-1 in their final four regular-season matches with wins over Kiski Area, Woodland Hills and Penn Hills to solidify a playoff spot.

“We were very happy with the way things ended, especially with the coaching change halfway through the year,” Kelsey Bonk said. “The girls adjusted very well. They never really missed a step, so we were able to go into continuing the season.”

Plum took the second set off Baldwin in the playoff game and was tied 15-15 in the fourth set, before the Highlanders pulled away to win 25-20 and take the match.

“We played a very competitive game at Baldwin,” Bonk said. “We asked our girls to have that game be defined by our effort, and I think it was. Our girls brought it all and played with an all-out effort. That fourth set we were right there, but we kind of slipped up toward the end. We made a run when they got to match point, but it just came up a bit short.”

The Mustangs will graduate six seniors — Sofia Chapkis (middle hitter), Bailey Raposa (libero), Brianna Bialota (outside hitter), Laney Kiefer (defensive specialist), Haley Chiusano (outside hitter) and Madison Schullo (outside hitter). Raposa and Bialota were named to the all-section second team, and Chapkis was an honorable mention.

“Losing them is going to be hard because they all played for us,” Bonk said. “It will affect every single rotation we have, but we had a phenomenal JV season. We had seven freshmen on our JV team and one of them, Makayla Jackson, played middle hitter on the varsity team by the end of the season.”

Jackson will be part of a youth movement for Plum next year. Corinne Phillips and Alexa Warso, who are setters, are returning players with varsity experience, along with outside hitter Miranda Depkon, but the majority of the team will be coming up from the junior varsity ranks.

“Even in the playoff match I don't think anyone watching would've thought (Jackson) was a freshman,” Bonk said. “She kept up with the pace of the game, and that was awesome to see. We started the season out with 10 girls on the varsity team, so the four returning will need to step up, along with some girls from the junior varsity team.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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