Plum boys soccer team hopes to take next step
It’s something that, when a program gets it, the team wants nothing more than to sustain it.
That’s the situation with Plum boys soccer. The Mustangs finished 10-2 (11-6-1 overall) in Class 4A Section 3 last season, two games behind champion Central Catholic.
While there’s more work to be done, it’s a far cry from coach Anthony Russo’s first season in 2015, when Plum slipped to 3-12-2.
“Last year was good. We had a mix of both experienced kids and newcomers and kids who stepped up,” Russo said. “They set a tone for the generation coming up. But the biggest thing is those guys, when they were freshmen, it was a different atmosphere and they set the standard for the guys that are now freshmen and sophomores to carry it on.”
Russo lost just four starters from last season.
Among those being counted on to sustain the Mustangs’ momentum are junior defender Cole Kelly and senior forward Jordan Floyd, who want to improve after last fall’s first-round playoff loss to Upper St. Clair.
“I think we can hang on to what we had last year as long as we can focus on what we have to get done,” Floyd said. “I see improvements with us, going out and winning games and not getting knocked out in the first round.”
There’s also the senior Ekiert brothers: goalkeeper Gavin and midfielder Ethan.
Junior midfielder Luke Gildea is another returning starter along with Tyler Kolankowski, a junior who Russo said “really came into his own last year.”
Plum also is looking at a contribution from sophomore striker Darius (D.D.) Flowers.
In the preseason scrimmages, Russo has been looking for the younger players to take that next step.
“Scrimmages are just to see, basically, for the young guys to prove themselves and some guys who are upperclassmen and haven’t had the chance in the past to show they have something to prove. There’s a lot of competition for some positions on the team.”
The Mustangs will begin the regular season by hosting their tournament Saturday.
Plum will take on longtime rival Fox Chapel at 7 p.m.
Preceding that will be West Allegheny-Gateway. The winners play Sunday in the championship game and the losers in a consolation.
Russo like the chance to play a rival to start the campaign.
“Once the sections changed, there were three teams that I wanted to see us play right off the bat: Central (Catholic), Fox Chapel and Allderdice,” Russo said. “Being as Plum is my alma mater, there’s a lot of rivalry when it comes to Fox Chapel, and it’s a rivalry that I wouldn’t want to dismiss.”
In the WPIAL realignment, Plum still resides in Class 4A Section 3, but it’s vastly different. The Mustangs will play Westmoreland County-based teams such as Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Hempfield. Nearby Penn Hills and Woodland Hills remain mainstays on the schedule.
“We’re trying to push the freshmen so they’re not scared coming into the high school season,” Floyd said. “Some of them haven’t played soccer as much, and we want to bang on them and push the standard up.”
Russo also credits the team’s recent success to assistant coach Raf Kolankowski.
The Mustangs open section play Sept. 4 at home against Latrobe.