Plum boys soccer relying on chemistry during hot start

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Friday, September 20, 2019 | 6:23 PM


Sometimes, a year of rebuilding and blending a group of players is all it takes. At least that’s the case for the Plum boys soccer team.

Just a year ago, the Mustangs finished 11-8 and lost to Pine-Richland, 5-2, in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAAA tournament after winning four of their final six games. Now, No. 5 Plum is 8-0-1, off to their hottest start since the 2006 season when they won 11 of their first 12 games and finished 12-7, 9-3.

The Mustangs and first-year head coach Raf Kolankowski, who served as an assistant under former head coach Anthony Russo, only lost two seniors from last year’s team and said the majority of their success could be attributed to the kids fully committing to the program.

“I think everyone just bought in during the preseason to the style of play that we want to play,” Kolankowski said. “We worked our behinds off. Not every game goes as smoothly as we want it to, but we’ve tried to stick to our gameplan and it seems to be working so far this season.”

Through nine games last season, the Mustangs produced a record of 5-4 and outscored opponents, 24-16. This year, they are outscoring opponents 35-8 and their defense has produced three shutouts.

A lot of things have been going well for the Mustangs. They’ve played solid defense, they’ve had eight goal scorers, and 10 have notched an assist. The list of factors that have led to success is endless, but co-captain Tyler Kolankowski believes one of them stands out.

“Honestly, it’s our chemistry,” said Tyler, who leads the team with nine goals and five assists. “Everyone on the team is friends. Luke (Gildea), Cole (Kelly) and I have known each other since we were like 3 and even the younger guys with my brother (Luke) and his friends. We’ve all known each other for a long time.”

Heading into this season it seemed like a perfect storm. The talent was there, the chemistry had been developed, and the Mustangs were looking to accomplish the same goals that they established last year.

They want to win a section title.

In order to do so, they had to get by No. 1 Norwin and Connellsville, the teams that finished above them in Section 3-AAAA last year. Earlier this month, the Mustangs tied the top-ranked team at home.

“They went up 1-0 and we didn’t really panic,” Raf said. “We continued to do what we do and we were able to tie it up. We created some chances in the second half, but the ball didn’t go in for us and it was a good all-around game.”

Then, just over a week later, the Mustangs took down Connellsville, who were in first in the section at the time, 5-2. Through both games, Plum relied on their strengths.

“It’s just been building in the back, possessing and keeping the ball, really,” senior defender Luke Gildea said. “It’s a lot easier to keep the ball than it is to get the ball. So, if we can keep the ball, get everybody their touches, something is bound to open up and we can just slide the ball in.”

With seven games left in the regular season, the Mustangs have an opportunity to produce one of the best seasons in Plum soccer history. The 2005 season was the last time they won a playoff game. They went on to capture a Class AAA WPIAL championship and finished 22-2-1.

They have great expectations, but the Mustangs aren’t getting ahead of themselves.

“It’s just focusing on one game at a time and having the mentality that every game is a big game for the rest of the season,” Tyler said.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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