Plum volleyball seeks momentum before WPIAL playoffs begin

 Senior Greg Ionadi, left, and junior Jack Murray get into position during a pool-play game at the Plum Invitational Tournament on April 26, 2014.
Senior Greg Ionadi, left, and junior Jack Murray get into position during a pool-play game at the Plum Invitational Tournament on April 26, 2014.
Photo by Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader
Michael Love
| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 5:57 p.m.

The WPIAL boys volleyball committee is scheduled to meet Monday to decide the pairings for the Class AAA championship tournament.

The first set of games tentatively is set to begin Tuesday with a champion to be decided on May 23.

Plum again is a part of the 12-team field — with four teams from each of the three AAA sections — and head coach Mike Larko Jr. hopes his team can build some steam as it enters postseason play.

The Mustangs entered this week 4-6 in Section 3 action and were slated to host Hempfield on Tuesday in a match that was to be contested past the deadline for this week's edition.

Plum visits Gateway to close out section play Thursday evening at 7:30.

The Mustangs hope to complete a season sweep and prevent the Gators, who are eliminated from playoff contention, from earning a big win to cap their campaign.

“We want to build some good momentum going into playoffs,” Larko said.

“WPIALs is definitely up for grabs. There aren't one or two teams beating everyone else 3-0. If you get some good momentum at the right time, you can definitely make a run. We hope to be a team that can do that.”

Larko said he hopes his team can rebound from a string of recent 3-0 losses to the top three teams in the section — Greater Latrobe, Penn-Trafford and Norwin.

“The first time through, we played all three teams tough,” Larko said.

“The matches could've gone either way. The second time through, though, I don't think we played well, especially against Penn-Trafford and Norwin coming out of our (Plum Invitational) tournament. I thought we looked good at the tournament, but we didn't take advantage of that momentum. But there's nothing we can do about that now. We can learn from the losses and make adjustments. All we can do is look forward and take advantage of the opportunities we have left.”

Plum was to honor this year's five seniors — Brenden Grande, Austin Dedert, Andy Marzullo, Joe Pavia and Greg Ionadi — before the match with Hempfield.

“We're definitely going to miss them next year,” Larko said.

“We've definitely enjoyed coaching them.”

Grande, who missed playing time last year with a concussion and a sprained ankle and time this year with pneumonia, returned to action last week, and Larko hopes he can be a strong factor moving forward.

“He's been definitely unlucky,” Larko said.

“We wish we could've had him on the court for that time, but he's back now, and hopefully we can keep him healthy for the stretch run and into the playoffs. He was really frustrated, but he knows he can't do anything about the past. He's focused on what's ahead and the time he has left in the season.”

Marzullo, Larko said, continues to progress after recovering from a concussion and getting cleared to return to practices and games.

Underclassmen players such as juniors Tyler Arnold, Zach Crowe, Dom Grasso, Jack Murray, Matt Innes, Nathan Kunkel and Khaynen Yocca, Larko said, have been crucial parts to the Plum boys volleyball machine this season.

Larko hopes they can continue to come together for what he hopes is a strong run in the playoffs.

He also hopes they can turn around their playoff fortunes from a year ago

The Mustangs suffered a tough five-set loss to Seneca Valley on their home court in the first round.

Plum also hopes to recall the feeling of a playoff victory such as the one it experienced in 2012 when it shut down Butler, 3-0, in a first-round matchup at Plum High School.

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

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