Plum boys soccer team eyes next step in playoffs

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Sunday, August 25, 2019 | 6:17 PM


Expectations are high for the Plum boys soccer team.

Eight starters are back from the squad that tied for third place in Section 3-4A last season.

Co-captain Tyler Kolankowski said a section championship is attainable. But the senior forward knows it won’t be an easy task in one of the WPIAL’s more competitive sections.

“It’s a dogfight every night in the section,” Kolankowski said. “Last year, (section champion) Norwin beat us twice, and (runner-up) Connellsville beat us twice. But this year is our year to prove that if we are favored to win our section, we have to work hard to beat them twice.”

The Mustangs finished 11-8 overall and 9-5-1 in the section. Four of their five section losses came by one goal.

Plum also hopes to make a deeper run in the WPIAL playoffs. Their 5-2 first-round loss to Pine-Richland last year was a disappointment, but Kolankowski said it got them refocused.

“We knew what we had to do to be ready for this year,” he said. “It was all about hard work and working together.”

The offseason saw a coaching change, but it wasn’t drastic. Raf Kolankowski, an assistant the past three seasons under Anthony Russo, was elevated to head coach when Russo stepped down in May to join the coaching staff of the men’s team at La Roche. Raf Kolankowski is the father of Tyler and sophomore Luke Kolankowski.

“There were a couple of small changes as Anthony and I were a little different, but overall, I didn’t have to change much,” Raf Kolankowski said. “It’s just now about putting the pieces together and finding the right fit and the right combinations. We really try to play possession soccer, so we’re working a lot on that so everyone feels comfortable. We got a lot of work done in camp. Everyone responded well. I’m pleased.”

Coach Kolankowski said he liked what he saw in terms of ball movement and possession in Thursday’s scrimmage with Knoch. He hopes to see the same positive steps Tuesday in a scrimmage against Butler, a WPIAL quarterfinalist last year.

“Butler always is a playoff contender, and that will be a really nice challenge,” coach Kolankowski said.

Also returning as starters this year are senior co-captains Luke Gildea (midfield) and Cole Kelly (defense), fellow senior Dominick Chapkis (defense), juniors Darius Flowers (forward) and Gabe Kuhn (goalkeeper), and sophomores Luke Kolankowski (midfield) and Michael Weleski (defense).

Kelly earned first-team all-conference honors last year, and Gildea received honorable-mention recognition.

Last year’s leading scorer, J.C. Floyd, graduated after totaling 17 goals and seven assists.

Flowers finished second in scoring with 11 goals. Junior AJ Koma added six, Gildea tallied four and the Kolankowski brothers three apiece.

Tyler Kolankowski had a team-best nine assists.

Senior Jack Troy and junior Cannon Kuchinick are returning letterwinners hoping to increase their roles this season.

Coach Kolankowski said there are several freshmen who could see significant playing time.

“They are quality players,” he said. “I hope we can develop a deeper bench, so if we can stay healthy, I think we’ll be OK.”

Kolankowski also is looking forward to seeing Kuhn take the next step in net.

“Last year, when (graduate Gavin Eikert) went down, it was Gabe’s opportunity to step up, and we did not miss a beat,” coach Kolankowski said. “We’re looking for big things from him this year.”

Plum hosts its season-opening tournament Friday and Saturday. The Mustangs will take on Central Catholic at 5 p.m. Friday and Kiski Area at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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