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Plum confident heading to WPIALs

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Gary Bills | For The Plum Advance Leader
Outside hitter Dan Szurley is one of five Plum seniors who will be honored on May 9, 2013, before the Section 3-AAA finale against Gateway in the main gym at Plum High School.

The Plum varsity boys volleyball team wraps up its Section 3-AAA slate Thursday with a senior-night game against Gateway in the main gym at Plum High School.

Seniors Bryan Parker, Matt Shepherd, Dan Szurley, Tyler Mitlo and Sean Doyle will be honored in a ceremony before the match, which is set to begin at 7:30 p.m.

“It's going to be an emotional night for everyone,” Shepherd said. “We want to come out and play well against Gateway and finish up the season right. It's been fun to enjoy our senior seasons and playing this season with the whole team.”

“I've coached these kids since their freshman year,” Plum head coach Mike Larko said. “It will be a special night for them.”

The seniors have helped the Mustangs squad qualify again for the playoffs, and they officially punched their tickets to the postseason with a 3-1 win over previously undefeated Penn-Trafford on April 30.

“We knew that Penn-Trafford was undefeated in section and playing well,” Shepherd said.

“It was nice to beat them. You could really see a difference in the eyes of everyone. We knew we could go out there and play to the best of our ability. It was a big change in confidence for everybody.”

Plum gained a measure of confidence from its runner-up finish at the Plum Invitational on April 27.

The Mustangs fell to Norwin, 26-24, in the championship game, but Plum got to the title game with a win over Bethel Park in the semifinals.

The Blackhawks beat Plum handily in pool play, had defeated the Mustangs in other tournaments and scored a 3-1 win when the teams met in a nonsection game early in the season.

“Our invitational was a turning point for us,” Larko said.

Bethel Park began the week on top of Section 1 with a 9-1 record.

Plum battled Norwin to the limit in a home section game on Thursday, and the once-beaten Knights survived a five-set match with the Mustangs.

“When we played at Norwin the first time, we didn't play the way we wanted to, and they beat us in three games,” Shepherd said.

“We were able to take them to five games this time, and you could tell they were concerned. We are starting to click as a team. It showed we are picking up on the little things that can get us on a roll as the playoffs get closer.”

“The Norwin match could've gone either way,” Larko said.

Plum was scheduled to play at Hempfield on Tuesday in a section match that was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.

Latrobe was to host Norwin, and the Wildcats and Mustangs went into those games tied for third place in the section with 6-4 marks.

Plum and Latrobe split their season series.

The WPIAL playoff pairings, Larko said, are scheduled to be released on Monday. The first-round games could start as early as Tuesday, but, Larko said, the games most likely will begin on Wednesday.

“We know we can make a run in the playoffs,” Larko said.

Plum is in the WPIAL playoffs for the third year in a row after missing the postseason in 2010.

The Mustangs suffered a first-round loss to Bethel Park in 2011.

Plum came back last year and scored a 3-0 victory over Butler in the WPIAL first round before falling to Seneca Valley in the quarterfinals.

Seneca Valley went on to place third and qualify for the PIAA tournament.

“No matter who we play, the excitement will be there,” Shepherd said. “We know we can keep up with the best if we play the way we know we can.”

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at

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