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King of the hill

Mar boys volleyball secures 1st WPIAL title

By Josh Rizzo

Eagle Correspondent

McMURRAY — Mars boys volleyball coach Mike Nypaver acknowledged the Planets’ program took an atypical route to its first-ever WPIAL Class AA boys championship.

Mars (30) Kaden Gratton celebrates after with the championship trophy as the Planets defeated Armstrong 3-0 in the WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Final at Peters Township High school on Friday night. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)

Successful high school sports programs typically build from the ground up. Once strong community youth feeder programs, or kids in the community join traveling club teams together, they help develop players and the high school program can have sustained, long-term success. But Mars, which is in only its eighth season as a program, hasn’t had time to build such a pipeline.

“It’s been an easy transition for me to pour myself into,” Nypaver siad. “Every kid through this program over the last eight years loves volleyball. We’ve had some tough years with only one or two wins. I think every year the kids have bought in.”

Mars’ Tyler Raabe (5) celebrates a point against Armstrong in the WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Township High school on Friday night. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)

But that hasn’t slowed the Planets, who swept Armstrong 25-19, 25-21 and 25-16 Friday night at AHN Arena to win WPIAL gold for the first time.

The Planets improved their record to 20-0 and advanced to the PIAA playoffs for the second straight season. Mars will play the loser of the District 10 final, either Meadville or Saegertown, next Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.

Senior middle blocker Ryan Ceh described his first few seasons as difficult. Losing pushed everyone.

“My sophomore year, I think we won three games,” said Ceh, who finished with 13 kills and a block. “It was miserable. We lost every game. We kept going. Every single guy today has played club and put in a lot of time.”

Armstrong, which made a Cinderella run to the finals as the six seed, didn’t make things easy for Mars in the first set. The River Hawks (11-9) and Planets traded the lead eight times before Mars wrestled the momentum away.

Nathan Rosenberger led Armstrong with 11 kills.

“As a coach, you want to strategically try to lock things down,” Armstrong coach Andrea Lasher said. “There are little things we tried to do. It did work. But they flow well and they are quick.”

What helped turn the first set around was an unorthodox kill. Ryan Ceh hustled back to the area between the end bleachers and the side bleachers well beyond the basketball baseline to save a ball that had been punched high into the air by Tyler Raabe.

Ceh swung his arms wildly, hoping to get the ball back over the net inbounds. It was a long, looping shot that landed in the back corner in front of a surprised Amrstrong defender.

“I hit it hard to get it over,” Ceh said. “I had no idea where it landed. I thought I had smoked that thing out.”

That point stretched Mars’ lead to 16-13 in the first set. Two points later, outside hitter Derek Piatek delivered a thunderous kill that closed out a 5-0 run to put the Planets ahead 18-13.

“The rundown immediately got us hyped up,” Piatek said. “Any time someone puts the ball through the floor, the entire team gets hyped up and the crowd gets loud. It felt like any other game and got us focused.”

Mars never looked back to close out the first set.

The Planets faced the most adversity in the second set. Mars saw a three-point lead slip away. Armstrong surged back to take a 19-18 lead after the Planets were called for a carry. But a River Hawks’ service error, followed by two kills from Ceh, helped spark a 3-0 run that gave Mars the lead for good.

“I think that was some of our best volleyball,” said Piatek, who finished with a match-high 14 kills. “There are some little bits that we have played better. That was one of the best games we have played all year.”

Mars (30) Kaden Gratton celebrates after a spike on Armstrong in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)
Mars (30) Kaden Gratton celebrates after a spike on Armstrong in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)
Mars (1) Ryan Ceh celebrates after a spike on Armstrong in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)
Mars (10) Liam Quinn serves the ball against Armstrong in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)
Mars (2) Colton Riska digs the ball against Armstrong in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)
Mars (22) Derek Piatek spikes the ball on Armstrong (12) Aiden Mccay in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)
Mars celebrates after with the championship trophy as they defeated Armstrong 3-0 in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)
Mars (30) Kaden Gratton celebrates after with the championship trophy as they defeated Armstrong 3-0 in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)
Mars (2) Colton Riska celebrates the last point before their championship win against Armstrong in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)
Mars (1) Ryan Ceh spikes the ball on Armstrong (22) Nathan Rosenberger and (6) Matt McClafferty in WPIAL Class 2A Boys Volleyball Championship Finals at Peters Twp. High school on Friday May 24, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)

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