Mars players Kelsey Bruce (12) and Abby Matusik (2) block a shot during the Planets’ 3-0 WPIAL semifinal win.
DAVE PRELOSKY/CRANBERRY EAGLE
WEXFORD — Making history is supposed to be difficult. The Mars girls volleyball team made it look easy on Thursday night. The Planets dominated Ambridge with a 25-10, 25-15, 25-17 sweep at North Allegheny High School to earn the program’s first trip to the WPIAL Class AA championship. Abby Matusik led the way for Mars (16-3) with 17 kills and two aces, while Jaden Zimmer tallied nine kills and Katie King racked up 33 assists. “It’s fun and exciting to be a part of history,” said Matusik, one of nine seniors on the squad. “I cannot ask for a better team.” The Planets have yet to drop a set in the WPIAL playoffs and didn’t trail Ambridge once after the Bridgers took an early 3-2 edge in Game 1. “We knew that if we could overpower them, we would be able to get a run of a couple of points where they wouldn’t be able to stop us,” said Mars coach Dan Mountain. “That’s our big strength.” Ambridge (13-3) was coming off an emotional five-set quarterfinal win over Freeport on Wednesday and also needed five sets to slip past Thomas Jefferson in the first round. “Mentally, we were exhausted,” said Ambridge coach Kim Bogati. “There’s no excuses when you go on the court. You need to play. We just didn’t get into it today. “We just never mentally came back,” she added. “I wish (Mars) the best of luck.” The Planets reeled off a 9-1 run to claim a 13-5 advantage in the first set and never let go of the momentum. Maggie McKernan, Melanie Dinderman and Katarine Moraca combined for five aces in the 25-10 win. Dinderman, a senior libero, also anchored a strong defensive performance from the back row. “If we can dig their best-hit ball and still set and get a big kill out of it, then that just deflates the other team,” said Mountain. “That just makes us that much better.” Mars seized early control again in the second set, building a 14-5 cushion before the Bridgers eventually closed the gap to 16-13. The Planets responded with a 9-2 run to grab a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Matusik exploded for nine kills, while King distributed 16 assists in the second game alone. “It’s nice to have a lot of different hitters that I can depend on to do a lot of different stuff,” explained King. The Planets jumped out to another quick lead in the third set, but the Bridgers rallied and cut the deficit to 11-10, forcing Mountain to take his only timeout of the match. “There were a couple of adjustments to be made,” said Mountain. “Mostly, it was just reminding them, ‘Hey, if we do what we do best in this particular match, we should be able to pull away at the end.’” He was right. The Planets maintained a slight edge until a 7-1 surge — capped by McKernan’s fifth ace of the night — completed the sweep and ignited a celebration. “This is the first year Mars has made it to the WPIAL championship, so it’s a big deal for us,” said Zimmer. “I’m very proud of our team to have made it this far. It’s a big accomplishment and I couldn’t be more excited for Saturday.” Destiny Tucker paced Ambridge with 12 kills and five blocks, while Lexi Hilzendeger added seven kills and Abbey Brewer recorded 16 assists. Kelsey Bruce and Emily King chipped in five kills apiece for Mars, which travels to Chartiers Valley on Saturday for the WPIAL finals at 4:15 p.m.