A-K Valley boys soccer preview: Plum sets sights on breakthrough season

Thursday, August 25, 2022 | 8:15 PM

The Plum boys soccer team has been agonizingly close to breaking through the last few seasons.

Last year, a pair of 2-1 losses — to West Allegheny in the semifinals and Franklin Regional, on penalty kicks, in the consolation game — denied the Mustangs a shot at WPIAL gold and the state playoffs.

Two years ago, it was a stunning first-round upset, another 2-1 loss to South Fayette, and three years ago, Canon-McMillan used a late rally to top Plum, 3-2, in the semifinals.

The Mustangs hope the difficult endings are a thing of the past, and this is the year they can find a way to get to Highmark Stadium.

“This senior class has been to the semifinals two of the last three years and lost two heartbreakers,” Plum coach Raf Kolankowski said. “We’ve been close, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump. Hopefully this year we can get over the hurdle.”

The Mustangs return Ben Pittman, who is back from injury, along with twin brother Lucas, who was all-section last season. Other seniors returning are Ethan Rose, Colin McKinley and Tristan Ralph. Aldi Flowers, a sophomore, started some last year and figures to be a major part of the 11 in 2022.

The Mustangs are in Section 4-3A with rival Franklin Regional, Gateway, Latrobe, McKeesport, Obama Academy, Penn Hills and Penn-Trafford.

Another team that came close to playing for a championship last season was Fox Chapel.

The Foxes fell to eventual WPIAL Class 4A champ Seneca Valley, 1-0, in the semifinals. They graduated three all-section players in Sean Ahia, J.P. Dockey and Ashton Schutzman but return another all-section player in George Tabor. Carson Krushansky had a strong freshman season at forward.

Fox Chapel is the lone Class 4A A-K Valley boys soccer team.

Section 1-3A houses two A-K Valley teams in Kiski Area and Highlands.

The Cavaliers advanced to the quarterfinals last season, where they lost 6-4 to Franklin Regional.

They return a pair of All-WPIAL midfielders in Anders Bordoy and Nathaniel Coleman. Bordoy netted 18 goals and 22 assists last year. Maddox Anderson had eight shutouts in goal.

“We always strive to win our last game of the year, but we believe we can make a deep run into the WPIAL playoffs,” Cavaliers coach Sean Arnold said. “Like most teams, this is dependent on the boys’ ability to adapt to adversity, stay consistent and remain healthy. With our key returning starters, we have great leadership to get us through the bumps of the season. We also have some underclassmen with little varsity time that look pretty strong so far.”

Highlands has three key returners in Shawn Kramer, Sam Norris and Justin Brink and will look to build consistency in Jakub Kasprzyk’s second season as coach. Kasprzyk said some younger players are battling for starting time, and everyone is eager to get the season rolling.

There’s some tough competition in Section 1-3A, including defending WPIAL champ Hampton, perennial contender Mars and North Catholic.

Section 2-2A features four A-K Valley teams.

Deer Lakes finished second to Shady Side Academy, which since has dropped to Class A.

The Lancers have high expectations again with a strong returning core of Ryan Hanes, Mason Metzler, Nick Braun, Nate Litrun, Michael Butler and Ruger Beer.

Leechburg qualified for the playoffs for the second consecutive year. This is only the fourth year of the program, which is a co-op with Apollo-Ridge. The Blue Devils have 10 seniors and will look to build on their 9-5-1 mark a season ago.

“This is the group that started the program a few years back, and it’s been great seeing them mature together,” Leechburg coach Brad Walker said. “We started coaching young kids and are now coaching young men.”

Knoch and Freeport dropped down into the section from Class 3A.

The Knights graduated 12 players but return Caleb Oskin and Orrin Milcic. They’ll rely on freshmen and sophomores to fill the gaps, but Knights coach Malcom Cook expects them to step up and help them reach their target of making the playoffs.

Freeport returns Isaac Wetzel, who had 16 goals, fellow seniors Garrett Risch and Zach Fairman as well as sophomore Angelo Porco. The Yellowjackets hope to snap a two-year playoff drought and are aiming for improvement across the board.

Burrell dropped to Class A and will be in Section 3 with Riverview, St. Joseph and Springdale.

The Bucs return an experienced squad with nine starters, including seniors Noah Kleckner, Seth Trisoline, Connor Kariots, Aiden Maltis and Niko Ferra.

“Most of the current team plays together year-round, and we have strong underclassmen as well,” Burrell coach Andrew Kariotis said. “Our expectation is to make a deep playoff run this season.”

Springdale has a new coach in Paul Palo following the retirement of Cesareo Sanchez. Palo takes over an experienced group featuring Chris Mitchell, Joe Wylly, Billy Lawrence, Bret Overly and Cooper Perrotte. The Dynamos lost to Greensburg Central Catholic in the quarterfinals last fall.

“I want to keep the winning tradition alive at Springdale and have the players really master the game of soccer,” Palo said.

Players to watch

Noah Kleckner, Sr., Burrell

Seth Trisoline, Sr., Burrell

Nick Braun, Sr., Deer Lakes

Ryan Hanes, Sr., Deer Lakes

Mason Metzler, Sr., Deer Lakes

George Tabor, Sr., Fox Chapel

Carter Krushansky, So., Fox Chapel

Isaac Wetzel, Sr., Freeport

Sam Norris, Jr., Highlands

Maddox Anderson, Sr., Kiski Area

Anders Bordoy, Sr., Kiski Area

Nathaniel Coleman, Sr., Kiski Area

Caleb Oskin, Sr., Knoch

Owen McDermott, Sr., Leechburg

Ashton Redmond, Sr., Leechburg

Lucas Pittman, Sr., Plum

Ben Pittman, Sr., Plum

Aldi Flowers, So., Plum

Chris O’Toole, So., Riverview

Billy Lawrence, Jr., Springdale

Chris Mitchell, Sr., Springdale

Quinn Stefabiak, Sr., St. Joseph

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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