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Plum boys volleyball hopeful for return to the playoffs

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Plum
Middle hitter Matt Shephard is one of the most experienced members of the Plum boys volleyball team.
Nathan Kunkle is one of several sophomores expected to step up for the Plum boys volleyball team in 2013.

The Plum boys volleyball team's season came to an end in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals with a 3-0 loss to Seneca Valley last year.

While no team ever wants its season to come to a close short of a championship, the Mustangs and Coach Mike Larko will use that playoff experience to help a young team this year.

“I think it definitely helped,” Larko said. “The sophomores that will be seeing time this year were there. They didn't get into the game or anything but they all see the atmosphere and everything. It's something they got a taste of and definitely want more of.”

Plum will rely on a few of those sophomores like outside hitter Nathan Kunkel, Khaynen Yocca and Tyler Arnold to step into the starting lineup this year to help improve from a 9-5 overall record last season and climb the ladder in Section 3-AAA.

Those players, mixed in with senior outside hitters Bryan Parker, Jai Major and Dan Szurley along with middle hitter Matt Shepherd give the Mustangs a nice mix of veteran experience to go with their young talent in 2013.

“From all six of our seniors we're looking for a lot of leadership,” Larko said. “We have six seniors with four juniors so a lot of underclassmen that are looking up for leadership.”

Some of that talent amongst its underclassmen was evident at the North Allegheny Tournament on March 23. Despite finishing 3-7, Kunkel led the team with 24 kills while Yocca was second with 13.

“I thought our young players played well and they're doing very well transitioning into varsity,” Parker said.

One of Plum's strengths this year will be at the outside hitter position where the Mustangs have four talented players in Parker, Major, Szurley and Kunkel. Larko said it has helped to create good competition in practice.

“It's a good thing to have because say someone's having a bad game than that person can replace him,” said Parker of himself and his fellow outside hitters.

While the outside hitter position looks to be a strength for Plum, Parker said the Mustangs need to work on their defense to get back to the playoffs this year.

“Our defense needed to improve,” Parker said. “Before we went to the tournament coach had us everyday work on at least 45 minutes to an hour of defense.”

For Larko, in order to achieve the team's ultimate goal of winning the section and advancing deep into the playoffs, sophomores like Kunkel and Yocca will need to continue to show improvement.

“We'll probably have two or three sophomores starting with another two seeing playing time so just getting them along and coming together as a team (is important) since we lost so many key players from last year's team,” Larko said.

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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