As emotion of final loss fades, Plum girls soccer team revels in special season
Monday, November 9, 2020 | 6:26 PM
The emotion was etched on the faces of the Plum girls soccer players and coaches in the moments after the final buzzer sounded Saturday afternoon at North Allegheny’s Newman Stadium and Mars laid claim to its second consecutive WPIAL Class 3A championship.
Tears could not be hidden as they realized the suddenness of a record-setting season coming to a close with a 1-0 loss to the top-seeded and undefeated Planets.
“It was tough,” Plum coach Jamie Stewart said of the talk with his players after the game.
The teams met in the title game for the second year in a row. Mars won 4-0 last year at Highmark Stadium.
Plum, which had shut out eight straight opponents heading into Saturday’s matchup, finished its season 16-1.
“It will get a little easier as time goes on,” Stewart said. “The hardest part is that normally, when you get to a WPIAL championship game, you still have states to go to after, no matter if you win the WPIAL title or not. You have that chance to continue to play and still be together. I think we probably would’ve had a good chance to play Mars again. For the girls and for the coaches, it was hard that Saturday was the end.”
Covid safety protocols and logistics played a big part in the PIAA deciding to advance only the district champions when formulating its state-playoff brackets in late September.
Last year, Plum played its first PIAA playoff game and lost to District 3 champion Manheim Central on penalty kicks in the first round.
Stewart said he was proud of the way his players “gave everything they had” against a very good Mars team.
“I thought the girls played incredibly well, and I couldn’t have been any prouder of the effort,” he said. “Unfortunately, you have games like that where you end up on the losing side.”
The lone goal came on a corner kick 14 minutes into the first half, when Mars senior Erin Rodgers scored on a header.
“Mars is very good on set pieces,” Stewart said. “They had quite a few corner kicks. Any time you give a team like Mars that many set pieces and give up only one goal, that is indicative of the girls’ play throughout that game.”
Plum rolled through Section 3 action and added a nonsection win over North Hills to finish the regular season 13-0. Home playoff wins over Gateway, 6-0, Thomas Jefferson, 4-0, and West Allegheny, 1-0, punched the Mustangs’ ticket to the finals.
“With all the distractions that go along with covid, the ability of the girls to focus day-in and day-out on the task at hand and take care of every game up until the final was really impressive,” Stewart said. “They also had a lot going on personally and in school, and you could say that would’ve made it hard to focus. But they were ready for every single game. To enter the title game with an undefeated record is a testament to the girls’ hard work and dedication.”
The Plum senior class of Gina Proviano, Jamie Seneca, Erica Taylor, Andrea D’Incau, Abby Lewis, Samantha Stewart, Carly O’Connell and Kelly Kvortek finished 32-5-1 at home and 58-16-1 overall the past four years.
Proviano finished her senior season with a team-best 20 goals, and Seneca, a Gannon commit, added 14.
“They are a special group of kids,” Stewart said.
“They really care, and they brought it every single day. The legacy they left is the bar they wanted to set for the program. For the underclassmen carrying the program on, the seniors really set the tone for where we want to be every year.”
Sophomore Kaitlyn Killinger was second on the team in scoring with 15 goals. She and players such as juniors Marissa Liberto (midfield) and Tori Ruggiero (defense), sophomores Annabel Arhin (forward) and Kaley Simqu (defense), and freshman Ava Weleski (midfield) will help form the core in 2021.
“It’s still a little fresh for everyone right now, but eventually, we’re going to take a look at what gaps we have to fill,” Stewart said. “When you have six starting seniors, that’s quite a bit of talent to lose. But there are those who we feel are ready to step up into new or bigger roles next year, and we have talent in the pipeline, too.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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