WEXFORD — Having captured the WPIAL Class AA title, Mars volleyball coach Dan Mountain knows it won’t get any easier from here.
In Tuesday’s PIAA first-round contest against Indiana, the Planets were pushed to the limit in all four sets, but prevailed 25-23, 19-25, 25-23, 26-24 at North Allegheny High School.
With the win, Mars was set to face District 10 runner-up Meadville at 4 p.m. Saturday at Sharpsville High School.
“Indiana’s a fantastic team,” said Mountain. “We expect that from every team. It’s going to be a battle all the way.
“I’m very proud of our girls weathering the storm,” Mountain added.
Indiana coach Malinda Oesterling could only lament about her team’s near chance of pulling out the match.
“It was the same way against Hopewell,” Oesterling said. “We lost by two points.”
Oesterling then asked how close the matches were and learned they were also all by two points and was stunned.
“It’s tough to be that close,” she added.
The opening game saw 16 ties — Mars had a 20-17 lead, the largest advantage of the game — with the last draw at 23-all before Abby Matusik had a kill, followed by a Maggie McKernan service ace to close out the game.
Indiana also suffered four service errors in that game.
The Indians (14-4) responded by jumping out to a 9-2 lead before the Planets slowly chipped away. Mars used a 4-0 run — highlighted by a Kelsey Bruce kill and a pair of tips to give Mars a 16-15 lead.
The Indians bounced back as Kaitlyn Palmer recorded a kill and a Mars hitting error gave Indiana the lead.
Matusik’s kill knotted the game at 17, but the Indians reeled off the next four points en route to the Game 2 win.
Mars opened up a 13-7 cushion in the third game before the Indians started to gain momentum.
The Planets still enjoyed a 21-17 edge before a double hit by Mars, a Haley Stapleton kill, a service ace by Palmer and a shared block by Stapleton and Zoe Zahorchak tied the game at 21.
A block from Mars, followed by a Matusik kill gave the Planets a two-point lead, but a hitting error and a net violation tied the game once more.
Mars, however, regrouped, using a kill by Emily King and another service ace by McKernan to close out the game.
Game 4 saw Mars again jump out in front — this time as much as seven at 16-9 — before Indiana whittled it down.
Mars held a 21-17 lead before Indiana scored the next six points — three on Planet errors — for a 23-21 advantage.
A service error by Indiana, followed by a service ace from Mars tied the game before Stapleton’s shot dropped over the net for a 24-23 Indians’ edge.
Another service error by Indiana tied the game, then a Mars tip-over and a Matusik kill gave Mars the match.
“Especially in that fourth game, Mars jumped out to the huge lead and we came back,” Oesterling said. “They came away with the win, though.”
“We know we have a lot of great players,” Mountain said. “Every rotation, even down by five or six, they are confident they can come back.
“We showed, and in the other games, too, that no lead is safe,” Mountain added. “You never know what is going to happen.”
Notes: Matusik and Emily King finished with 16 and 12 kills, respectively, while Katie King added 45 assists and Mel Dinderman 27 digs. ... Indiana was paced by Stapleton and Natalie Cignetti, who had 18 and 13 kills, respectively.