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Mars boys volleyball’s historic run continues with PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal win vs West Shamokin

MONROEVILLE — Mars boys volleyball faced a nearly identical situation two years in a row.

Both times it was up 2-0 in a state playoff game against West Shamokin. One more set win would send the Fightin’ Planets to a round it had never been before.

A year ago in that spot, Mars folded. West Shamokin won the next three sets to advance to the second round.

Kyler Robinson, Ryan Ceh, Kaden Gratton and the rest of the senior-laden Mars team made sure that didn’t happen a second year in a row. The Planets controlled the third set from start to finish and completed the 3-0 sweep (25-23, 28-26, 25-19) Saturday in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals at Gateway High School.

They are in the state semifinals for the first time in program history.

“It feels great,” Mars head coach Mike Nypaver said. “It means a lot because this group has been around, most of them, three to four years, so to build from the beginning up is a really good feeling, and I’m really proud [of] what they’ve endured those four years.”

Related Article: PIAA boys volleyball: Mars sweeps Saegertown for first state tournament win to make Class 2A quarterfinals Related Article: King of the hill
Mars (30) Kaden Gratton celebrates after winning game one against West Shamokin in a PIAA Class 2A boys volleyball tournament quarterfinal Saturday at Gateway High School on Saturday June 8, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)

Several of the seniors on the roster were new to volleyball when they joined the program three or four years ago.

Senior middle hitter Ryan Ceh, who had an estimated 14 kills and three blocks Saturday, is a basketball player in the fall who joined the volleyball team when a friend said he had a chance to contribute right away. Middle Kaden Gratton joined as a freshman and had no championship aspirations.

“I just thought it’d be fun to play volleyball,” Gratton said after an unofficial seven kills. “And it is, it’s really fun. Yeah, I never expected anything like this, but I’m glad it’s happening, for sure.”

Mars’ volleyball program (22-0) is in its seventh year. Two years ago it won its first WPIAL playoff game. Last year it made the state playoffs for the first time.

It’s been a meteoric rise, led by a tight-knit senior class that runs 11 players deep.

“We got our little taste of winning really towards the end of [my sophomore] year,” Ceh said. “I looked at who we had coming back, which was a lot of guys, and was like, ‘Alright, we can maybe make something [of this].’ But I never thought we’d be making it as far as state semis.”

Now it’s reality.

To book a spot in the Class 2A final four, the Planets had to get through a familiar foe in the District 6 champion Wolves (16-2).

Neither side established firm footing in the first set — both teams committed numerous serving, passing and attacking errors in the early going — but Mars began applying steady pressure with the mix of Ceh, Gratton and junior Derek Piatek to go up 23-19. Ceh smashed a back-slide kill and had two blocks during the run, and Piatek sealed the first set with a kill.

“I think the end of the first set we started getting our grove, and the beginning was just a little rough,” Robinson said. “I think we just carried that through to the last two sets.”

Mars (10) Liam Quinn and (9) Owen Javor celebrate after defeating West Shamokin 3-0 in a PIAA Class 2A boys volleyball tournament quarterfinal Saturday at Gateway High School on Saturday June 8, 2024. (Justin Guido/Special to the Eagle)

It did.

West Shamokin jumped out to a 5-2 second-set lead, but Mars rallied for a 14-9 advantage on a pair of Piatek aces as the offense, led by pinpoint passing from Robinson, began to assert itself.

The final hurdle came late in the set, when WS erased a 23-21 deficit and had three set points. Mars denied them all, and Ceh had two kills in the final three points to give the WPIAL champion a 28-26 win.

The Planets kept the pressure on in the third set, unlike a season ago, and never trailed, going up 21-14 at one point before finishing off the win on another Ceh kill.

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Robinson finished with an estimated 35 assists, and Gratton had seven. Piatek, whose serve had the Wolves on their heels much of the match, had an unofficial 10 kills and three aces.

Up next is District 10 champ Meadville, which beat Lower Dauphin 3-1 in another quarterfinal, on Tuesday at a site and time to be announced.

“I think at the WPIAL final after we won it was in our heads a little bit [how much we’ve accomplished], but now I think we just wanna keep winning,” Robinson said. “And we’re having fun, so that’s always a good thing.”

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