Baleno steps down as Plum soccer coach
After five seasons as head coach of the Plum varsity boys soccer team, Mike Baleno has decided to step down from the position.
Baleno cited a young and growing family and the desire to be there more often for them as the reason for his decision.
He and his wife welcomed their third child into the world on Feb. 25.
“We now have a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a newborn — all boys — so I felt it was time for my family,” Baleno said.
“Being away so much during the season is hard, especially hard on my wife and the boys. It was time to be home.”
Baleno said the decision was a tough one, considering the great moments he experienced with his fellow coaches and players over the past several seasons.
“I really enjoyed coaching,” Baleno said.
“It was very special to get back to my alma mater where I graduated from. I worked with a lot of great kids over the years, and we had a lot of great teams. It's hard to walk away from the kids, the program and something I love to do. At the same time, my family comes first, and it was a decision I went back and forth on. I did what I felt was best for my family.”
Baleno said he was grateful to get the chance to work with several strong and talented assistant coaches, including his brother, Dave.
He also cherished the opportunity to coach his younger brother, Matt, a senior this past fall.
Matt Baleno, Shane Rings, Richard Wittman, Colin Smith, Dan Reid, Zach Linderman, Bryan Parker, Randy Geibel and Dan Adamczyk made up the 2012 senior class which helped lead Plum to a 9-5-3 overall record and a 6-3-3 mark in Section 3-AAA.
The Mustangs reached the WPIAL playoffs for the second straight time and suffered a tough 4-0 loss to eventual WPIAL runner-up and PIAA champion Upper St. Clair in the first round.
Matt Baleno and Rings would go on to play in the Western Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association Class AAA/all-state soccer all-star game.
“I am so proud of these guys,” Baleno said after the playoff loss to USC.
“Before the season started, these guys, especially the seniors, said they were going to make the playoffs. It was their goal. We knew we had a shot. We beat some good teams and overcame some tough odds. This is a good group of guys, and it's been a fun year.”
It was the second straight playoff appearance for Plum.
In Baleno's first year — 2008 — the Mustangs went 6-5-1 in section play and tied Gateway for fourth place in the section, one position away from a playoff spot.
Plum missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2010, but the Mustangs were able to break through in 2011.
A 6-3-3 record in section play, including a 3-1-2 mark down the stretch, secured the third playoff spot in the section behind Pittsburgh Central Catholic (12-0) and Fox Chapel (7-4-1).
A 5-1 loss to Seneca Valley in the WPIAL first round scuttled Plum's plans for a deep playoff run. Seneca Valley went on to make the WPIAL semifinals before falling to Upper St. Clair.
“I will remember a lot of good battles, whether we won or lost,” Baleno said.
“The attitude and the work ethic of the kids helped get this program to a playoff level. You look back at all the kids you've coached, and you hope you've impacted them in a positive way.”
Baleno said with the returning players from the 2012 team and the younger players coming up through the ranks, the program should remain strong.
“Plum should always be a top-three team in the section and compete for the WPIAL playoffs,” he said.
“We built a program that allows the freshmen to step right in and contribute. The talent and competition level is there. They are a competitive group, and the section is always competitive. It's just about maintaining that, and I am sure whoever is the next head coach will do that.”
Baleno said he still will support the team and attend games.
“It will be interesting to see the team from a different perspective,” he said.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.