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How Mars boys volleyball’s Kaden Gratton has become ‘the face of this whole run’ in PIAA tournament

He won’t admit it, but perhaps no one on Mars’ boys volleyball team better exemplifies the program’s meteoric rise in the last three years than Kaden Gratton.

Ryan Ceh is a towering presence in the middle, and Kyler Robinson quarterbacks the Fightin’ Planets offense as good as anyone.

But Gratton provides the soul for a team in its first PIAA tournament semifinal in just its seventh year of existence.

The senior middle hitter joined the program as a freshman because he “just thought it’d be fun to play volleyball.” The Planets had never won a playoff game to that point under now seventh-year head coach Mike Nypaver. Gratton had no aspirations of on-court glory.

He rose from the junior varsity roster to Connor Thompson’s back on varsity as a junior. Now he’s a key starter for an undefeated Mars team set to face District 10 champion Meadville (19-0) in Tuesday’s PIAA Class 2A semifinal at Shenango High School at 6 p.m.

Related Article: Mars boys volleyball’s historic run continues with PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal win vs West Shamokin Related Article: PIAA boys volleyball: Mars sweeps Saegertown for first state tournament win to make Class 2A quarterfinals

“I never expected anything like this, but I’m glad it’s happening, for sure,” Gratton said.

Gratton's growth has coincided with Mars’ own improvement. The Planets were 5-10 in 2021, then 1-15 a year later. When Gratton joined varsity in 2023, they went 16-4, won their first WPIAL playoff game and made their state tournament debut.

Now they’re 22-0 and a win away from an unprecedented championship appearance — which will be played Saturday at 11 a.m. at Penn State University’s Recreation Building.

Mars’ Kaden Gratton has been the Planets’ emotional leader during its historic run to the PIAA Class 2A boys volleyball tournament semifinals. Eagle file photo

“I think Kaden is a very good example of [the program’s rise],” Robinson said.

“He’s our biggest vocal leader,” Ceh said after Saturday’s 3-0 quarterfinal sweep of West Shamokin. “[N]ow this year he finally gets his chance, and he’s just shining in his role. So he’s just kind of had that natural progression, and he’s been the face of this whole run for us.”

Gratton roars after every kill; he had an unofficial seven of them Saturday. Everyone in the gym knows when Mars has won a point because of Gratton’s obvious reaction. (Which draws a sharp contrast to the stoic Ceh, who barely flinched after sending Mars to the state semis with the match-winning point.)

Gratton was among the loudest on the team when the Planets finished off the sweep of West Shamokin.

But he’d disagree he exemplifies his team’s takeoff into state contender.

“I don’t think it’s one person specifically, I think it’s everybody,” he said Saturday. “Everybody had a great offseason, everybody got a lot better, our team grew mentally, especially, we’ve gotten a lot stronger mentally, we’ve gotten better. I think it’s just everyone.”

It has taken more than the vocal leader to get to this point. Ceh had an unofficial 14 kills and three blocks in the state quarterfinal victory, and junior Derek Piatek unofficially had 10 kills and three aces. The senior class includes 11 players.

But none mirror the Planets’ surge like Gratton.

Mars’ Kaden Gratton (30) joined the volleyball team just to have fun as a freshman. He never envisioned the on-court success the Planets would have three years later. Eagle file photo
PIAA boys volleyball semifinals: What to know about Mars vs. Meadville

Where: Shenango High School, New Castle

When: Tuesday, 6 p.m.

Tickets: $8, can be purchased at piaa.org

How they got here: Mars, led by coach Mike Nypaver, won its first WPIAL Class 2A title, then beat District 10 runner-up Saegertown 3-0 in the state first round and swept District 6 champ West Shamokin 3-0 in the quarterfinals ... Meadville, led by coach Nick Bancroft, beat WPIAL runner-up Armstrong 3-1 and survived a five-set match against District 3 third-seed Lower Dauphin in the quarterfinals

Winner faces: 3-1 Exeter (23-0) vs. 3-2 Manheim Central (17-1) on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Penn State University’s Recreation Building

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