East Xtra: A familiar face takes charge at Plum High


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Michael Larko has once again followed in his father's footsteps.

Larko is now coaching the boys and girls volleyball programs at Plum High School.

"Taking over the girls program was a natural fit for me," said Larko, who has coached the boys program at Plum the past two seasons after assisting his father Mike for four seasons.

Mike Larko coached more than 30 years with Plum's boys program, mostly as head coach. He also served as Plum's girls head coach nine years.

"It's great to be coaching both programs at my alma mater," said Michael Larko, who was the head girls coach at Burrell the past two seasons.

Prior to his stint at Burrell, Larko served two years as a girls assistant at Plum. He replaces Kory Flaherty, who has relocated to Rochester, N.Y.

"When I heard the position had opened, I jumped at the chance to coach both programs at Plum," Larko said.

Larko does not work at Plum.

"I am a computer teacher at St. Sebastian School in Ross," Larko said.

Despite not working at Plum, Larko was familiar with some of Plum's players.

"I'm also a coach for the Premier Girls Volleyball Club and some of our players are from Plum," Larko said. "In fact, two-thirds of our girls on the varsity squad are playing club ball. Knowing some of the girls made my transition very smooth."

In the past 15 years, Plum's girls program has made 12 appearances in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs, including the past eight seasons.

"We are all familiar with the great tradition of volleyball -- both boys and girls -- at Plum," Larko said. "It's good to have some pressure. Our goal every year is to make the playoffs. The girls and the coaching staff are working very hard to keep that winning tradition alive."

Plum has a 2-1 record in Class AAA Section 4 after blanking Penn Hills, 3-0, Tuesday. The Mustangs opened their section schedule with a 3-0 win against Mc-Keesport, then dropped a 3-0 decision to Shaler Area, the section favorite.

"We travel to Woodland Hills [tonight], then host a tournament Saturday," Larko said.

Larko has only three starters returning from last year's squad, which placed third in the section.

"We have a talented group of girls, but we're very young." Larko said. "There have been some growing pains along the way, but the girls have been great."

The three returning starters are 6-foot-3 junior opposite Rachel Satira, 6-3 junior middle hitter Courtney Zezza and 6-1 sophomore middle hitter Claire Hankinson.

"We do have some good height on the front row, which is a luxury, and all three are underclassmen," Larko said. "Rachel is one of the best players in the section. We expect a lot from her this season. Courtney and Claire have improved significantly in the middle from last season."

Larko is using a 6-2 offense with Sarah Carroll and Maddie Gestrich splitting the setting duties. Carroll is a 5-5 senior, while Gestrich is a 5-6 sophomore.

"Both Sarah and Maddie ran the same offense on their club team, so this is not a new experience for them," Larko said. "Both need to improve their technique, but both are doing a good job,"

Larko has had four players splitting playing time at the other three outside hitter positions, 5-5 senior Michelle Thiess, 5-8 senior Allison Centa, 5-5 junior Samantha Brown and 5-7 sophomore Megan Rengers.

He also has four players splitting time in the backcourt, 5-5 senior Colleen Brown, 5-3 senior Erin Kelly, 5-5 senior Alexis Witkovitz and 5-4 junior Alexis Bialotta.

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First Published September 12, 2013 4:00 AM


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