Plum volleyball falls in 5-set heartbreaker to Seneca Valley
The Plum varsity boys volleyball team engaged in several close battles this year and faced the pressure of a trio of five-set matches in the regular season.
The Mustangs found themselves in that situation again on May 14 against Seneca Valley in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs at Plum High School.
A back-and-forth match wound its way through four games — each team winning two — before a fifth and deciding set to 15.
The Raiders had defeated the Mustangs in five games in a nonsection match during the regular season, and the Mustangs wanted to return the favor and advance to the quarterfinals.
The fifth game was tied at 14, and the winning team had to prevail by two points.
In the end, Seneca Valley, the No. 11 seed, was able to pull out the final two points against No. 6 Plum and bring a sudden end to a successful Mustangs season.
Plum, which finished as the No. 3 team in Section 3 behind Norwin and Penn-Trafford with an 8-4 record, wrapped up its 2013 campaign at 8-7 overall.
“It definitely was a difficult loss for the guys,” head coach Mike Larko Jr. said.
“It took some time to get over it. The guys definitely deserved to win that match. It was one of the best matches they played all season. Seneca Valley is a good team, and we knew that coming in.”
Plum was attempting to advance to the quarterfinals for the second year in a row.
The Mustangs defeated Butler in the first round of WPIALs last year after falling to Bethel Park in the first round in 2011.
Seneca Valley got the better of Plum in playoff action for the second straight season.
The Raiders upended the Mustangs, 3-0, last year en route to a WPIAL runner-up finish and a trip to states.
Plum won the first game of the May 14 playoff contest, 25-13, and seemed to be on its way to a winning outcome.
Seneca Valley bounced back to tie the match at one game apiece before the Mustangs tallied a 25-22 win in game three.
The Raiders, with their backs against the wall, rallied in game four to force the deciding game.
“It was back and forth the entire way, always within a couple points,” Larko said.
“We were definitely planning on going further in the playoffs. We gave it our best shot.”
The playoff loss to Seneca Valley was a gut-wrenching end to the varsity careers of seniors Bryan Parker, Matt Shepherd, Dan Szurley, Tyler Mitlo and Sean Doyle.
“It will be a tough group to replace,” Larko said.
“The returning guys and some new starters have some big shoes to fill next year. They've been hard workers the past four years. You really can't ask much more from them.”
Larko said he was impressed with the way the team improved throughout the season, with a spark coming in a runner-up finish to Norwin at the Plum Invitational on April 27.
“We knew coming into the season we might struggle at times with our inexperience,” Larko said.
“The second half, starting with the Plum Tournament, we really stepped it up. We played like we knew we could. The (3-1) victory over (section runner-up) Penn-Trafford (on April 30) was a big highlight for the guys.”
Larko will welcome back a core of five lettermen in juniors Joey Pavia and Brenden Grande and sophomores Tyler Arnold, Nathan Kunkel and Khaynen Yocca.
Also eligible to return who saw varsity time this season are juniors Andy Marzullo and Greg Ionadi and sophomore Jack Murray.
Larko said sophomore Dom Grasso, who got a match or two of setting experience along with time in tournaments, should contribute more next year.
“The offseason work will be very important,” Larko said. “We want to build some pieces around the returning core and have the core improve as well.”
The All-Section 3-AAA team recently was voted on, and Parker and Yocca received first-team honors.
Parker was a second-team selection last year.
Named to the second team this year was Szurley, Shepherd and Arnold.
Larko said the All-WPIAL selections will be released at the end of this week.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at email@example.com.