COLLIER TWP — It had already been a great playoff run by the Mars girls volleyball team, but the Planets capped it in style Saturday afternoon.
Mars dethroned defending WPIAL Class AA champion Hopewell via a sweep by scores of 25-22, 25-18 and 25-17 at Chartiers Valley High School. It is the first district title in the program’s history.
The effort concluded a run in which the Planets swept all four of their playoff foes, including Kittanning, South Fayette and Ambridge to reach the title game.
“I never thought we would sweep today,” said Planets senior outside hitter Abby Matusik. “We were nervous because we knew Hopewell was a good team.”
The Vikings proved to be a stubborn opponent in the first game, erasing a 19-14 deficit to tie the game at 22.
Mars forced a sideout to take a one-point lead before Matusik tallied her eighth kill of the game after the Planets took possession. Katherine Moraca then served up an ace to give the Planets a one-game-to-none lead.
“We thought taking that first game could’ve taken some wind out of Hopewell’s sails, but then again, we saw them lose the first game against Indiana (in the semifinals Thursday) and they went on to win three straight,” Mars coach Dan Mountain said of the Vikings. “We weren’t taking anything for granted.”
But on this day, Hopewell never did regain the momentum that it displayed in its comeback in the opening game. The Planets — Matusik in particular — can be thanked for that.
She tallied a game-high 19 kills, including five in the second game, which saw the Planets open up a 20-12 edge.
The Planets scored four points in one possession with Teresa Dallatore behind the service line and four more with Katie King serving.
Even when the Vikings were able to pry possession away, they did not keep it for long. Kills from Jaden Zimmer, Matusik, Kelsey Bruce and Emily King kept Hopewell on its heels and unable to form any consistent flow of points. Zimmer’s sixth kill of the game gave the Planets a two-game lead.
The third game leaned Mars’ way in a hurry as the team scored seven points off the serve of Maggie McKernan, who contributed a pair of aces to the run, for a 9-3 cushion.
Mars’ hitters controlled the action for most of the day and it was fitting that Zimmer’s kill off Hopewell’s serve handed the WPIAL crown to the Planets.
Mountain is used to seeing Matusik excel at the net.
“She’s the best player in the WPIAL,” he said. “Watching her play is special.”
“This is definitely one of my best games,” Matusik said. “It’s like you don’t even think about what you need to do, you just go out and do it because you want it so bad.
“This is amazing,” she added. “This was Mars’ first trip to the WPIAL finals and to win, it just makes it that much better. It’s history.”
Zimmer added 13 kills in the win and Emily King 10.
“This year’s seniors were in seventh grade when I took over the varsity program,” said Mountain. “To see them come through and accomplish what they did, it’s a special group.”