Plum boys soccer seeks return to AAA playoffs
When the new Section 3-AAA boys soccer alignment was released in the offseason, 2013 playoff qualifiers Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Allderdice were moved out, and Franklin Regional and Kiski Area, two of the three playoff qualifiers out of Section 1, were moved in.
Plum head coach Dave Baleno said his returning players are pumped for the opportunity to make some noise in the new-look section and return to the postseason after a one-year absence.
“We'll see blue-collar, hard-working games,” Baleno said. “We'll see low-scoring, physical games. I am excited the way it turned out. There's no clear-cut favorite with how much Fox Chapel lost. There should be a lot of close games, and 6-6 might make the playoffs. We always have a goal to make the playoffs, and I like our chances.”
Plum finished 4-8 in section play last year and ended up fifth in Section 3 behind Fox Chapel, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Allderdice and Penn Hills.
Baleno said he saw some good things during the first scrimmage at Butler in the hot sun and high grass.
“It was a feeling-out process and an opportunity to get more fit and see guys in different positions. We're trying to get more organized, and some newer varsity guys were able to get their feet wet.”
Baleno said senior midfielder Orazio Barbarino has taken more of a leadership role this season.
“From last year to this year, he's improved so much,” Baleno said.
“Through the ODP program, he's playing at such a high level. All of his thought processes and his shooting has improved. He's taken on that leadership role more. He will be so important for us this year.”
Junior forward Ryan Smith finished at the top of the goal-scoring list for Plum last year, and he enters his third season as a starter.
Sophomore Cooper Myers returns after earning a starting spot on defense as a freshman.
“Cooper has 20 games under his belt already,” Baleno said. “He benefitted from playing in the back with Stephen Hemmerle, a very organized, smart and respected player. Cooper needs to take a more vocal role in the back this year.”
Senior forward Marquis Flowers also got a lot of playing time last year.
“Marquis is pushing to get better, and he wants to score more and win more,” Baleno said.
Senior defender Max Barone continues to battle back from a concussion suffered last season.
“Max still needs a doctor's signature for contact,” Baleno said.
“He's been running and conditioning. He's worked on some drills and is in good shape. He really wants to get back and play.”
Senior midfielder/forward Michael McGuire has been fighting a hamstring injury.
“Michael brings a lot of excitement,” Baleno said.
“He really wants to win and help the team get back to playoffs.”
Junior Nino Fratangelo returns to the field in varsity action this season.
Junior Tyler Scharba and sophomore Brenden Akut, both midfielders, have made some big jumps and really improved their games, Baleno said.
Seniors Brendan Derry, Jon Caffas and freshman Jackson Gildea have competed for the starting goalkeeper spot.
“With several senior starters graduating, there have been opportunities in the lineup,” Baleno said.
“There's been some great competition. A couple of guys stepped in and took spots. Everyone has raised their games. It helped us so much in the preseason. We're starting to see depth develop.”
Plum, which was to scrimmage at Penn-Trafford on Tuesday, kicks off its season Friday at 8 p.m. against Shaler at the Shaler Tournament.
The Mustangs open section play Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against Penn Hills at Linton Middle School.
“Any time a game is on the record, we try to win that game. We play to win,” Baleno said.
“We also might try to do some things to see what will work best in advance of the first section game. We have the benefit of both aspects. The Shaler Tournament is good for us.”