The Mars Area High School girls volleyball team moved into uncharted territory on Tuesday in the PIAA Class AA semifinals against Fort LeBoeuf.
By qualifying for the semifinals, coach Dan Mountain's squad had climbed to a plateau no other Planets squad had reached.
At one point, it appeared as if the Planets would take another step toward their ultimate goal of winning a state title when they took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five match.
That's when Fort LeBoeuf turned the tables on Mars and dashed the Planets' hopes with dominating wins in the final two sets.
"Fort LeBoeuf made some adjustments with their blocking in the fourth set," Mountain said. "When we adjusted to what they were doing, it was too late."
Mars, the WPIAL Class AA champion, posted wins of 25-19 and 25-12 in the first and third sets. Fort LeBoeuf, the champion of District 10 (northwestern portion of the state), responded with wins of 25-23 and 25-12 in the second and fourth sets.
The momentum the Bison picked up in the fourth set carried over to the fifth, as they easily defeated the Planets, 15-4, in the decisive set.
"It's tough to get this close [to the PIAA finals] and have our season end this way," Mountain said. "But the girls have a lot to be proud of.
"We won section and WPIAL titles and made it to the state semifinals. They are clearly the best team in school history, and one of the best teams in the state."
Mars was the only WPIAL team in Class AA with four players voted to the WPIAL All-Star team. Senior outside hitter Abby Matusik and senior libero Melanie Dinderman were voted to the first team. Senior middle hitter Jaden Zimmer and junior right-side hitter Kelsey Bruce were second-team selections.
"Abby is the best Class AA player in the WPIAL, and Melanie is the best libero in Double-A," Mountain said.
Matusik, Dinderman and Zimmer are three of nine seniors on Mountain's squad. The others are setter Katie King, middle hitter Emily King, opposite Morgan Verplank, outside hitter Courtney Sommers and defensive specialists Katherine Moraca and Teresa Dallatore.
"Eight of our nine seniors had a major role on the varsity, so we are losing a very talented group of players to graduation," Mountain said.
"But we do have a good group of girls coming up from a very successful JV team."
Matusik and Emily King each had 15 kills in the semifinal match against Fort LeBoeuf.
Also, Dinderman contributed 28 digs, Katie King had 45 assists and Bruce had eight blocks.
North Allegheny also came up short in its PIAA semifinal match.
The Tigers, the WPIAL's third-place finisher in Class AAA but the district's only remaining big-school representative in the PIAA tournament, dropped a 3-1 decision to Hempfield High School, located in Landisville, Lancaster County, the third-place finisher from District 3.
Hempfield jumped out to a commanding 2-0 lead with wins of 25-19 and 25-20 in the first two sets.
North Allegheny stayed alive with a 25-21 win in the third set, but Hempfield capped the victory with a tight 25-23 decision in the fourth set.
It was the first time North Allegheny had advanced to the PIAA semifinals since 2008. The Tigers placed second in the state that year.
North Allegheny had five players voted to the WPIAL Class AAA All-Star team and four of the five are underclassmen. Two Tigers received first-team honors, senior setter Maura Nolan and junior outside hitter Ashley Leto.
Tigers sophomore middle hitter Meg Morningstar was voted to the second team, while senior libero Kristen Mitchell and junior opposite Danielle Wall were third-team picks.
Nolan and Mitchell are two of seven seniors on North Allegheny's varsity roster. The others are outside hitters Ava Mosbacher and Morgan Fischer, defensive specialists Cindy Chao and Rachel Samuels and middle hitter Katie Humes.
Leto led North Allegheny with 13 kills in the semifinals, followed by Mosbacher's 10 kills.
Morningstar and junior Erin Swartz each had 10 blocks. Mitchell had 16 digs and Nolan had 25 assists.
North Allegheny, coached by Heidi Miller, finished the season with a 19-4 record and won the Section 3-AAA championship.
Hempfield will face District 11 champion Parkland in the PIAA championship on Saturday afternoon in York.