Coach Kolankowski right fit for Plum boys soccer
By: Michael Love
Thursday, July 18, 2019 | 5:41 PM
The Plum athletic department didn’t go far to find the next coach of the boys soccer team.
Rafal Kolankowski, an assistant the past three seasons under former coach Anthony Russo, was elevated to the top spot in the Mustangs program in May when Russo joined the coaching staff of the men’s team at La Roche.
Kolankowski said his familiarity with the players — he also coached most of the current players on youth leagues in the Plum area — allowed for a seamless transition as the summer conditioning and on-field workouts became more prevalent.
“I wanted to stay on and help continue what Anthony started,” Kolankowski said. “The goal this summer has been to keep things moving in a positive direction, and things have gone well. I appreciate being given this opportunity.”
Kolankowski, a member of the Point Park Athletic Hall of Fame, was the men’s soccer program’s all-time leading goal scorer upon completion of his four-year career in 1995.
“We’ve had pretty good numbers, anywhere from 25 to 35 every time we’ve had a workout,” said Kolankowski, who also has coaching experience in the Premier Football Academy, Century United, PA West ODP and Hotspurs organizations.
“With eight starters back, I am expecting good things. There’s been good competition in the workouts for those couple of open positions.”
In 2015, Russo’s first year as coach, Plum went 3-12-2 and missed the playoffs.
But the Mustangs turned things around the past three seasons, compiling a 32-19-4 record with three trips to the playoffs.
“We have strong senior leadership, and they are hungry,” Kolankowski said. “The program hasn’t won a playoff game since 2006. The first goal is to win the section, and the second is to win that playoff game and, hopefully, move on from there. That’s created a lot of good work this summer.”
Plum lost its leading scorer from last year in Jordan Floyd (16 goals) to graduation, but the next seven leading scorers, including rising junior Darius Flowers (11 goals), are back.
“(Coach Kolankowski) knows our playing style and what works, so there hasn’t been too much change,” Flowers said.
“It’s been a smooth transition. It’s been pretty positive through the workouts this summer. With some of the open spots, there’s been a lot of motivation to not let up in these workouts. We’re looking forward to having another good season.”
Luke Gildea, a midfielder who helps form a core of senior leaders, echoes Flowers’ confidence and comfort since finding out Kolankowski would lead the team.
“It’s really nice to see that chemistry between the coaching staff and the players,” Gildea said. “We’ve gotten a lot of work done. This team has a lot going for it.”
The team has been meeting four times a week with a focus on conditioning during two of those days.
“I told everyone that they need to come into camp (Aug. 12) in shape,” said Kolankowski, who has brought former Gateway boys and Penn Hills girls coach Greg Pittman on board as an assistant.
“Camp is not the time to get in shape. They’ve responded really well to that and have been doing a lot in the conditioning workouts.”
Flowers said: “I think our conditioning levels will be improved.”
Gildea added: “We want to be the fittest team out there.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .