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Plum fall sports teams begin journey

Gary Bills | For The Plum Advance Leader - Juniors Michael McGuire and Kyle Smecker take part in first-day practices Aug. 12, 2013, for the Plum varsity boys soccer and football teams, respectively.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Gary Bills | For The Plum Advance Leader</em></div>Juniors Michael McGuire and Kyle Smecker take part in first-day practices Aug. 12, 2013, for the Plum varsity boys soccer and football teams, respectively.
Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader - Juniors Michael McGuire and Kyle Smecker take part in first-day practices Aug. 12, 2013, for the Plum varsity boys soccer and football teams, respectively.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader</em></div>Juniors Michael McGuire and Kyle Smecker take part in first-day practices Aug. 12, 2013, for the Plum varsity boys soccer and football teams, respectively.
Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader - Plum junior hitter Rachel Satira plays close to the net during a volleyball practice Aug. 12, 2013, at Plum High School.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader</em></div>Plum junior hitter Rachel Satira plays close to the net during a volleyball practice Aug. 12, 2013, at Plum High School.

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Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

After almost nine months of preparation — from work in the gym to offseason league games, camps and workouts — the Plum varsity fall sports teams officially kicked off their 2013 seasons Monday with the first practice sessions.

Morning, afternoon or evening sessions got the ball rolling. It is the start of a journey that players and coaches hope will lead to championships, capping both individual and team goals.

The Matt Morgan era for the Plum football program began in the spring, and the Plum graduate and football standout, along with his coaching staff, got right to work with the players in weight-room sessions, workouts and passing-league games.

The team went live for the first time on Monday as preseason camp began for more than 60 players in uniform.

A number of players with varsity experience took to the field with hopes of helping the Mustangs turn around a tough two-season stretch of losses.

Plum made the playoffs in 2010 but won only once in 2011 and went winless in 2012.

Morgan, a four-year player at Pitt and an NFL alum with the St. Louis Rams and the Buffalo Bills, will get a chance to see what his players have on Saturday at 10 a.m. when the team scrimmages at Penn-Trafford.

New Plum varsity boys soccer head coach Dave Baleno, an assistant for several seasons under his brother, Mike, greeted 35 players to a pair of practice sessions on Monday.

“It was a hot and sunny day, but we had good practices,” Dave Baleno said.

“The guys are motivated and excited.”

The Mustangs are coming off another strong season that saw them finish 6-3-3 in section play, with a 2-0-2 section mark down the stretch, and qualify for the playoffs.

Plum saw its season come to an end with a tough 4-0 loss to WPIAL power Upper St. Clair in the first round.

The Mustangs will get a chance to show their stuff in their first scrimmage on Monday against Butler at 5 p.m. at Plum High School.

The Plum girls soccer team snapped a tough streak in 2012, qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2002.

The Mustangs, which suffered a 3-0 loss to Seneca Valley in the first round, are hoping to build on a 6-4-2 mark in section play and an overall record of 9-7-2.

“Everything went pretty well for the first day,” said head coach Mike Proviano, who greeted 36 players for the first practice Monday.

“The girls had been conditioning and playing soccer all summer. They put in a lot of hard work.”

Plum will be put to the test Saturday with a home scrimmage against Greater Latrobe set for 10 a.m.

The Mustangs varsity golf team returns to action this fall with a new head coach in charge of the lineup.

Ron Richards, also the Plum varsity boys basketball coach, takes over the golf program from veteran coach Keith Nonnenberg.

Richards said he was happy with the start of the three days of tryouts.

Plum golfers played 18 holes Monday at Willowbrook Golf Club in Apollo and were scheduled to do the same Tuesday and Wednesday.

“The freshmen and first-time players were paired up with the older kids so they could gain some confidence,” Richards said.

Plum, 5-7 in section play last year, opens up with three matches in four days, starting Tuesday at 4 p.m. against Fox Chapel at the Fox Chapel Field Club.

The Mustangs face Franklin Regional next Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at Oakmont Country Club and meet Kiski Area at Vandergrift Golf Club on Aug. 23 at 3:15 p.m.

Mike Larko Jr. is a familiar face for Plum volleyball, and the Mustangs boys varsity coach takes over the girls varsity program this fall for Kory Flaherty.

Flaherty, who is working out of state temporarily, had to step down from the full-time position this year, but he is serving as a volunteer assistant when he can make it to the area.

The Plum girls volleyball team returns in 2013 hoping to make another trip to the WPIAL playoffs. If they qualify, they will attempt to snap a streak of eight straight first-round exits.

The Mustangs, who went 9-3 in section action last year, suffered a first-round loss to Mt. Lebanon in the playoffs.

Several returning varsity players, including tall frontline players in juniors Rachel Satira and Courtney Zezza and sophomore Clairissa Hankinson, will form the core of the 2013 Mustangs squad.

Plum will scrimmage at Kiski Area on Monday at 9 a.m., and the Mustangs will host Knoch and Penn-Trafford in a home scrimmage next Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Veteran cross country head coach Joe Ionta welcomed a large group of 56 boys and girls runners to the first practice of the season Monday.

“It is my largest group so far,” Ionta said.

“It was a positive first day.”

That large group of runners includes senior Alan Yocca and sophomore Jake Susalla, who placed 18th and 16th, respectively, in the boys AAA race at WPIALs and qualified for states.

The Plum boys went 5-3 at last year's section championship meet at Pittsburgh's Schenley Park, while the Mustangs girls went 4-4 at the same location.

The Plum teams kick off their seasons Aug. 31 at 10 a.m. at the Gateway Invitational at Boyce Park.

The Plum slow-pitch softball team made their debuts last fall in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Softball League, and the Mustangs' inaugural campaigns were a big success.

The program, which returns several starters from both the varsity and junior varsity squads, began preparations for the 2013 season with their first official practice session Monday at Plum High School.

The varsity team finished 12-3 overall in 2012, and that run included an 11-game winning streak.

The JV squad went 10-4.

“A lot of the girls played tournament ball over the summer,” manager Marty DeGore said. “There are a number of freshman out for the team, which is nice to see. Half of the girls at practice (Monday) were freshmen. We started with basic drills and had batting practice. The girls are excited for the season.”

A new coach is at the helm of the Plum varsity girls tennis team.

Rosemarie Stashko greeted this fall's squad for its first practice Monday morning, and several starters are back from last year's lineup.

The Mustangs are hoping to improve on last year's 6-8 mark in Section 3-AAA and challenge for a WPIAL team playoff spot.

Section and WPIAL powerhouses Fox Chapel and Shady Side Academy, along with Shaler, qualified for the 2012 WPIAL tournament from Section 3.

Those three teams return to the section, along with Gateway, McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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