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Behind new coach, Mars girls volleyball set to start over

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Seniors Lexi Zika (1), Natalie Grice (25), Maggie McKernan (17) and Kelsey Bruce hope to step into leadership roles this season for the Mars girls volleyball team.

There's a new look for the Mars volleyball team — on the court and on the bench.

The Planets graduated nine players from last year's WPIAL Class AA championship squad.

They also lost their coach — Dan Mountain, who resigned after six seasons at Mars to take the head coaching job at Butler.

Tami Caraway, one of Mountain's assistant coaches last season, has taken over as head coach.

She hopes to continue the program's success.

“I admired what he did,” Caraway said. “I am very pleased to have this opportunity. It's a great situation to have so much support from the athletic department and school.

“To have kids who want to work hard and achieve something together is a win-win for me. It makes my job very easy. I feel very blessed to be in the position that I am in.”

Last season, Mars captured the WPIAL title with a 3-0 sweep of Hopewell.

The Planets beat Indiana and Meadville in the PIAA playoffs. They had a 2-0 lead on Fort LeBoeuf in the PIAA quarterfinals, but saw the Bison come back to win, 3-2.

Fort LeBoeuf then defeated Delone Catholic to claim the state championship.

“Last season was an absolute thrill,” Caraway said. “The nine graduating seniors had played together since seventh grade. They loved competing together and worked hard together. For them, it was a fairytale ending

“I wish they could have made it one more match, but the state semifinals were a pretty nice place to be.”

Seniors Kelsey Bruce, Maggie McKernan and Lexi Zika all saw some playing time last year for the Planets, who finished 19-4 and earned their first-ever PIAA semifinals berth.

The squad's other senior, Natalie Grice, missed all of last season with a knee injury, but is healthy this year.

Juniors Angela Botto and Cassie Berteotti were on the varsity squad a year ago, but will see bigger roles this season.

Junior Hannah Both and sophomore Elise Sheehy could be key players in the middle, as well.

“Since we graduated just about everybody who has played varsity, there are a lot of opportunities for kids,” Caraway said.

“The girls have been working hard all summer. It's great to see some young kids come in and do some things.”

Caraway believes the team's success last year had a big influence throughout the program.

“As we made it through WPIALs and states, the JV team traveled with us, so they had a sense of the excitement of what the team was able to accomplish,” she said.

“All the kids in the program saw the success of the varsity team. The freshmen had a very good season last year in eighth grade. The JV team only lost four matches. I thought they had a pretty successful season. We may not always have nine seniors. But, now we know what it takes, and we want to apply ourselves to achieve it.”

Many players should see playing time this season as Mars tries to figure out who fits best in what spot.

“For the first couple weeks of the season we will be adjusting the lineup,” Caraway said.

“We are working really hard to find the right combination of kids. It's not easy because nobody is giving up. They are all working hard to get on the court. I appreciate that a lot.”

Caraway believes the team has a lot of potential.

“Hopefully, we'll be finding our stride by October,” she said. “We set a goal to make it to the WPIAL playoffs and see what we could do. We'd love to get back to states, but there are a lot of great teams. If we work hard enough and apply ourselves, we can go back.

“I think Dan did a great job building a program in the six years he was here. We want to continue what he started and what the girls accomplished last year.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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