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Volleyball

Plum volleyball team hopes to defend own invite title

Michael Love
| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Plum varsity girls volleyball team knows what it is like to find success at its own invitational.

The Mustangs players again will be shooting for championship gold on Saturday, as 14 other teams invade Plum High School for the Plum Invitational.

The field, an increase of three teams from last year, will begin pool play at 8:30 a.m. Plum is the defending champion.

“The girls are excited,” Plum head coach Mike Larko said.

“They are looking forward to playing well in front of their home fans. It's also nice to be at home and not have to get up early and travel like we did the past two weekends.”

The Plum Invitational is the Mustangs' third Saturday tournament in as many weekends to start the season.

They placed fifth at the Butler Tournament on Aug. 31, and finished 11th out of 17 teams at the Shaler Tournament last Saturday.

Originally, a total of 16 teams were set for Saturday's Plum Invitational, but, Larko said, Avonworth had to drop out.

Larko said the format of four pools will remain, but one pool will have only three teams.

Like in previous seasons, there will be Gold and Silver brackets, with ten teams in the Gold bracket vying for the tournament championship.

Last year, Plum claimed the title with a 2-0 win over Riverview in the best-of-three championship match, and Riverview returns hoping to take home the title this year.

The Mustangs upended Gateway in the semifinals, and the Gators and McKeesport, Plum's rivals in Section 4-AAA, also are in this year's field.

The Tigers defeated Highlands in the Silver Bracket finals last season.

Joining Plum, Gateway, McKeesport and Riverview are Brentwood, Serra Catholic, Highlands, Kiski Area, Deer Lakes, Sto Rox, California, Burrell, St. Joseph and Brashear.

“We haven't seen some of the teams yet this season, but we know it will be a competitive tournament,” Larko said.

Larko served as the Burrell girls head coach last year, and he brought them to the Plum Invitational each time. He has seen the competitiveness through many of the matches.

The top 10 teams this season, Larko said, will advance to the Gold bracket, with the remaining five competing in the Silver bracket.

Larko said he hopes to see continued improvement in his team on Saturday.

He said Saturday's Shaler Tournament gave him the opportunity to try a few different things with the lineup, and he saw some positives.

“We were more consistent from how we were at the Butler Tournament,” Larko said.

“But we still weren't where we need to be. It's a work in progress, and we were able to put people in different positions to see what works best.”

Plum faced the likes of Knoch, Butler and Penn-Trafford in the first round of pool play.

The Mustangs took fifth in the first pool round, advanced to the Bronze bracket and won that bracket with a 3-1 match record.

Two days earlier, Plum traveled to Shaler for a Section 4 matchup, and the Titans came away with a 3-0 victory.

“We just didn't play well,” Larko said.

“We didn't communicate or pass well. Our serving wasn't strong. Shaler knew what they needed to do, and they executed extremely well, and we didn't hold up underneath it.”

Before they can concentrate on the Plum Invitational, the Mustangs, who entered the week 1-1 in section play, pay a visit to Woodland Hills on Thursday for a 7:30 p.m. section match.

Plum was slated to host Penn Hills on Tuesday evening. The match was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.

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

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