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Journey about to begin for Plum fall sports teams

- Plum junior forward Aaliyah Odom, at left, led the Mustangs girls soccer team in scoring last season with 11 goals. Photo by Gary Bills
Plum junior forward Aaliyah Odom, at left, led the Mustangs girls soccer team in scoring last season with 11 goals. Photo by Gary Bills
- Jake DiGuilio at right, secures the ball in the end zone for a touchdown against Kittanning. It was one of DiGuilio’s team-best four rushing touchdowns, as Plum beat Kittanning for its lone victory of 2011. Photo by Bill Shirley
Jake DiGuilio at right, secures the ball in the end zone for a touchdown against Kittanning. It was one of DiGuilio’s team-best four rushing touchdowns, as Plum beat Kittanning for its lone victory of 2011. Photo by Bill Shirley

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Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012, 12:36 p.m.

The countdown clock to Monday is ticking away.

Almost nine months of preparation - from work in the gym, to offseason league games, camps and workouts - get put to the test, as fall varsity preseason practices for Plum student-athletes officially begin in four days.

It is the start of a journey that players and coaches hope will lead to championships, capping both individual and team goals.

The Plum football team is hoping to bounce back from a tough 2011 season that saw it go 1-8 overall and 0-6 in Quad East play.

Head coach Frank Sacco said the team still will be young, but it will be more experienced, as several young players got time on the field when veterans missed games because of injury.

Twenty-five letter winners dot the Mustangs' roster, and Sacco said offseason workouts were well attended and successful.

The conferences in Quad-A got an overhaul in the offseason, as the number of conferences were reduced from four to three.

Plum will be in a revamped conference with familiar foes Penn Hills and Woodland Hills and also will take on new conference opponents Bethel Park, Baldwin, Mt. Lebanon, Canon-McMillan, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair.

The season begins at home against Bethel Park on Aug. 31.

The Plum boys soccer team needed a strong finish in Section 3-AAA play to secure a spot in the WPIAL playoffs, and a 3-1-1 mark in its final five section games - including a 1-1 tie against Fox Chapel and a 5-1 rout of Franklin Regional - got the job done.

The Mustangs' magic ran out in the playoffs, as it lost to Seneca Valley, 5-1, in the first round on the Raiders' home field.

Plum head coach Mike Baleno said after that playoff game that the score didn't reflect the strong effort put forth by his players, and, he said, he hopes that momentum can carry over into this season.

Plum, along with Fox Chapel, Penn Hills, Gateway Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Woodland Hills, will welcome Allderdice to Section 3 this fall.

Allderdice captured the 2011 City League championship.

The Plum varsity volleyball seniors celebrated an emotional senior night last season, as the group of five - Katie Mower, Holly Kennedy, Jamie Schmitt, Kristina Hall and Jordan Pogue - helped the Mustangs upend Fox Chapel to force a tie between the teams for the Section 4-AAA title.

Plum, the ninth seed for the WPIAL playoffs, saw its season come to an end with a five-set heartbreaking loss to eighth seed Peters Township in the first round.

Third-year head coach Kory Flaherty welcomes back a core of players who will try to get back to the playoffs and snap a seven-game playoff losing streak. Current seniors Alyssa Samarco and Caitlyn McDade and sophomore Rachel Satira earned all-conference honors last year.

Plum will not have to face Fox Chapel this year, as the Foxes exit Section 4. Replacing Fox Chapel is Oakland Catholic, which didn't qualify for the playoffs in 2011. Gateway, Shaler, Penn Hills, Woodland Hills and McKeesport remain in Section 4.

The Plum girls soccer team also is trying to turn around its fortunes after a tough 2011 campaign.

The Mustangs completed a 4-8 record in Section 3-AAA. Despite the final mark, head coach Mike Proviano said the team showed strong effort in each contest.

Injuries affected several key players, including leading scorer Aaliyah Odom, a junior forward who scored 11 goals last season but missed most of the section finale against Gateway with an ankle injury.

Six seniors were lost to gradation, but talent returns in several areas, as the Mustangs hope for good things in Section 3.

Plum will face old section foes Fox Chapel, Gateway, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills and will match up with section newcomers Allderdice and Oakland Catholic.

The Plum boys and girls cross country teams have logged a lot of miles in the offseason, and the team will begin preparation for its first meet - the Gateway Invitational at Boyce Park on Sept. 1.

The boys squad was rather young last year, as five of the top seven finishers at WPIALs were underclassmen. The team finished 29th in the standings.

Leading that group was Luke Jennings, who wrapped up his junior season with a 90th-place finish overall on the course at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock.

The Mustangs girls took 30th at WPIALs in 2011, as recent graduate Liz Addison closed out her cross country career at Plum with a team-leading 106th-place finish.

Veteran head coach Joe Ionta also bid farewell to senior Steph Tomaro, who also was among Plum's WPIAL finishers, but five of the seven who represented the Mustangs at the event were underclassmen.

Plum varsity boys golf coach Keith Nonnenberg had to say goodbye to only two varsity seniors from last year's team - Greg Varga and Brett Rubash - and, he said, he hopes to see continued improvement from last year's underclassmen as they enter preseason practice.

The Mustangs will try to improve on a 3-9 mark in Section 4.

They swept Woodland Hills and beat Gateway on their home course at Willowbrook Golf Club.

There are no changes for Section 4 this season, as Plum again will golf Fox Chapel, Franklin Regional, Gateway, Kiski, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills. The teams will join the other big-school squads in the WPIAL's transition to AAA and AA classifications.

For the first time since the fall of 2007, there will be no one by the name of Ronit Yurovsky on the Plum varsity girls tennis team.

The Michigan recruit bid farewell to the Mustangs last fall after completing one of the best high school careers in the history of WPIAL and PIAA tennis.

Yurovsky won three straight WPIAL titles and back-to-back PIAA championships in a Plum uniform.

For the second year in a row, the Mustangs came very close to clinching a spot in the WPIAL team playoffs. Last year, Plum and Gateway both finished 7-7 in section play - tied for fourth place behind Shaler (8-6).

Head coach Lori Senkewitz said at the time she was frustrated for her players, especially the seniors, because they had worked so hard toward a goal of making the postseason.

The team enters preseason practices with competition for the top three singles spots, which were left vacant because of graduation.

There are no changes to the lineup in Section 3-AAA, as Fox Chapel, Shady Side Academy, Shaler, Gateway, Penn Hills, McKeesport and Woodland Hills again will match up with the Mustangs.

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