DALLAS – It’s amazing how much changes in a year. For the Dallas girls’ volleyball team, it was clearly evident Monday night.
Down 15-12 in the third set, the Mountaineers never hung their heads. In past years, that may not have been the case as a small deficit could have meant a dropped set.
Yet, showing fight and determination, Dallas used a 7-0 run on Gianna Musto’s serve to climb out of the hole and built a comfortable lead. It’s all the Mountaineers needed to earn a 3-0 victory over Pittston Area Monday night in Wyoming Valley Conference play.
Set scores were 25-17, 25-9 and 25-22. Dallas is 4-0 in the league, while Pittston falls to 0-4.
“We really felt that we could have a good year,” Musto said. “We got a few early wins, and I think it helped to build some momentum. We need to keep practicing hard. We can’t take any days off.”
Really, it’s about a new mindset instilled by first-year head coach Mike Shmakov, who coached the boys’ program in the spring.
The philosophy? Every game is winnable. Every point is there for the taking. Never overlook grit and determination.
“As a first-year coach, it’s rare to be successful,” Shmakov said. “Everyone has really accepted me as a coach. These girls do a great job of listening and fixing all of the negatives. Some of these girls were around me during the boys’ season, and they saw the importance of playing as a whole. Honestly, every game is winnable. It just depends on the mindset. They are capable of winning.”
The results are starting to show. After winning eight matches the last two seasons, Dallas is off to a 4-0 start with an opportunity to improve to 5-0 on Wednesday when the team travels to Coughlin.
Just this season, the Mountaineers have picked up a four-set win over a much-improved Tunkhannock team, and a sweep of Pittston Area, which returned all but one starter from last year’s squad that just missed the postseason.
Any surprise to the quick start?
“With a new coaching staff, we are pushed a lot harder,” said Dallas setter Caitlyn Pike. “There is a lot more focus. Honestly, it is a little surprising to be 4-0, but we have been practicing really hard and everyone had a real good summer. We just need to keep our head in the game. Too many times in the past, we got in our own heads and kind of shut down. We can’t let that happen.”
Then again, it helps to have Musto.
The junior had a team-high eight kills Monday, including five in the opening set to boost Dallas to a 25-17 victory. Behind the service line in the third set is when she shined brightest.
With Musto hitting her exact spots on the court, and timely kills from Shelby Carr and Hannah Vitale, the Mountaineers went on a match-clinching run, grabbing a 19-15 lead late in the set.
Pittston got it back to 23-20 on a Portia Weidlich kill and Michalie Mazurkivich block before the Patriots won two of the final four points to clinch the match.
“Winning can sometimes be scary because you don’t sneak up on anyone anymore,” Shmakov said. “Teams start to take notice and being to plan against you. Right now, we have to stay focused more than ever. We have a goal set, and they really believe they can win 12 matches. I think it can be done as well. But at the same time, they understand how important it is to be focused on each match.”
Musto finished with eight kills and 13 service points, while Pike ended with 13 assists. Pittston’s Weidlich had a match-high nine kills, and freshman setter Tiara George had 11 assists.
Dallas 3, Pittston Area 0
PA `17`9`22 – 0
D `25`25`25 – 3
Pittston Area Leaders: Portia Weidlich 9 kills, 1 block, 4 digs; Tiara George 11 assists; Michalie Mazurkivich 2 kills, 2 blocks.
Dallas Leaders: Caitlyn Pike 19 assists, 8 service points, 2 aces, 3 kills, 5 digs; Gianna Musto 8 kills, 13 service points, 5 aces, 5 digs; Shelby Carr 4 kills, 2 blocks, 6 service points.