Host team outlasts field to claim Plum Invitational
The Plum varsity girls volleyball team wanted to defend its own invitational championship it captured the past two seasons, and on Saturday at Plum High School, 15 other teams wanted to knock the Mustangs off their title perch.
But Plum would not be denied, even though the road to gold wasn't an easy one.
The Mustangs survived a back-and-forth semifinal match against Deer Lakes and then topped Serra Catholic, 25-15, in the title game to wrap up the championship.
“It was a pretty long day, but we were able to keep it together,” senior setter Sarah Carroll said. “We grew a lot as a team.”
The six seniors — Carroll, Colleen Brown, Erin Kelly, Allison Centa, Alexis Witkovitz and Michelle Theiss — will take with them three straight tournament titles.
“There's a lot of pride in winning this tournament,” Kelly said.
Plum, the No. 1 seed for the 10-team Gold Bracket playoffs, had to rally in the title game, as Serra jumped out to a 6-3 lead. The Mustangs used an 11-1 run to build a 14-7 advantage.
Sophomore Maddie Gestrich produced three straight service aces, and fellow sophomore Claire Hankinson provided three kills and a block to lead the Mustangs during the run.
Plum maintained the lead throughout the rest of the game.
A service ace from sophomore Megan Rengers and a kill from junior Rachel Satira put the Mustangs at the cusp of the title at 24-15.
Serra, the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, wasn't able to return the ball on the final serve from Rengers, and Plum had the title.
Hankinson finished with four kills and the one block in the title game.
“This is a great feeling,” Hankinson said.
“I am glad we were able to do it as a team. We really supported and pushed each other through those games. It makes it great to be able to go out there and win it.”
Satira made three kills in the title tilt, while junior Courtney Zezza contributed two blocks and one kill.
“That was definitely fun to be a part of,” Satira said.
Serra and Plum knew each other well, as the teams split two games in pool play earlier in the day.
“There were no secrets in the finals,” Plum head coach Mike Larko said. “We just executed well in the final game.”
Larko said the tournament win was a sign his team continues to improve and mature.
“It was definitely the best volleyball we played all year,” Larko said. “It was the most emotionally invested the team has been. It was great to see them get into it and put in everything they have.
“They stepped up and got the job done. We were much more consistent throughout the day, which we've been striving to do.”
Plum captured a wild 27-25 victory over No. 5-seed Deer Lakes in the semifinals. Plum trailed 18-13 but used an 11-3 run to take a 24-21 lead.
Despite being one point from elimination, Deer Lakes responded with a 4-0 run to lead, 25-24.
A Hankinson kill ended the Deer Lakes run and tied it at 25, and a kill from Zezza made it 26-25.
Zezza figured into the final point, as she tapped the ball over the net, and that caused a Deer Lakes player to commit a net violation.
“It was really nerve-wracking but we knew we could do it,” Satira said.
“We knew we could come back. We just had to show it.”
“(The semifinal win) gave us a lot of momentum for the championship match,” Carroll said.
Plum started the Gold Bracket playoffs with a 25-14 victory over No. 8-seed Brentwood. Hankinson kills accounted for the final two Mustangs points of the game.
Plum went 8-1 in the two pool-play rounds.
It went 5-1 in the first pool round, sweeping two games from Valley and Riverview in addition to the split with Serra.
The Mustangs took one game from Burrell, Mc- Keesport and Kiski Area in the first-place pool.
Plum was scheduled to face defending section champ Oakland Catholic on Tuesday. It was a match that was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.
The Mustangs continue section play Thursday at Gateway at 7 p.m.
Plum began the week 3-1 in section play with wins over McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills and a road loss at Shaler.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412- 388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.