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Plum boys soccer eyes return trip to WPIAL playoffs

| Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Plum Advance Leader
Gary Bills | Plum Advance Leader Matt Baleno is one of seven seniors hoping to make the 2012 season a successful one for the Plum varsity boys soccer team.

The 2011 Plum varsity boys soccer team finished its regular season and Section 3-AAA slate strong.

It went 3-1-2 down the stretch in section play, and the points racked up spelled a trip to the WPIAL playoffs.

Despite a 5-1 loss to eventual WPIAL semifinalist Seneca Valley in the first round, Mustangs head coach Mike Baleno had nothing but praise for the effort his team showed to turn its season into a special one.

The page turned over the past nine or so months, and a new Plum team formed. A new identity has taken shape in preseason camp and during two scrimmages, and it all gets started for real this weekend.

“We're just looking to build on what we did last year,” Baleno said. “We have five returning starters, which is a good core group. We're looking for those guys to lead us and continue what we did last year with our strong work ethic and team continuity.”

Seniors Matt Baleno, Bryan Parker and Shane Rings are back as starters, as are juniors Corey Williams and Steve Hemmerle. Parker missed the first half of last season while trying to battle through a back injury. He was able to return to the field and help the Mustangs in their drive for the playoffs.

Baleno and Rings were among the go-to players for scoring last season, and they both are expected to reprise those roles in 2012.

Junior Joey Pavia is expected to slide into the left-defender position and senior R.J. Geibel , coach Baleno said, will be in that right-defender spot.

“They have varsity experience, and we hope they can come in and fill those roles,” coach Baleno said.

Senior Colin Smith (midfield) got varsity playing time last year, and, coach Baleno said, sophomores Orazio Barbarino (midfield) and Michael McGuire (midfield) are competing for varsity time this year.

“So far, the guys plugged into starting roles have filled in quite nicely,” coach Baleno said. “They understand the system and style of play and are taking off where the graduating players left it. So far, they've looked pretty good.”

Senior Dan Adamczyk will take over in net for the graduated Brandon Carroll.

“Dan's done well so far,” coach Baleno said. “I think a lot of it will come down to getting more varsity experience. He's a big kid and a good goalie.”

Plum scrimmaged Norwin on Aug. 23, and, coach Baleno said, he was able to take a lot from it.

“Norwin came out and was very physical and very high pressure,” he said.

“They were a little bit different than what we saw (in the first scrimmage) against Butler (on Aug. 20). It showed us what we can do against a playoff-contending team, and Norwin is definitely that. We did some good things and saw some things we need to work on.”

Franklin Regional moved out of the section and is playing this season in Section 1 with the likes of WPIAL powers Kiski Area and Norwin.

New to the section and to the WPIAL this year is Allderdice. The 2011 City League Champion which went 20-1 last fall and was undefeated until losing to Upper St. Clair in the first round of the PIAA AAA playoffs.

“We know every year is going to be a battle,” coach Baleno said. “Our basic goal is to take care of every section game and be top three in the section and make the playoffs. As we learned from last year, every single game in the section counts. One game can make a big difference.”

Plum kicks off its season Friday at the Shaler Tournament. The Mustangs are scheduled to play Knoch in the first game at 6 p.m.

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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