Plum girls lacrosse team reflects on section championship season

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Saturday, June 10, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The Plum girls lacrosse team had big things in mind for the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs and beyond after a regular season which saw it finish undefeated in section play for the first time and rack up a 14-3 overall record.

The Mustangs were awarded the No. 2 seed — their best ever — and also a first-round bye for the first time.

But as the Plum players knew, Class 2A is a loaded classification, and anything can happen in the playoffs.

Quaker Valley, steeped in playoff tradition, rose up from the No. 7 seed and clipped Plum, 10-6, in their quarterfinal matchup May 18 at Plum.

“That was a tough loss,” senior Kylie Fischer said. “We were able to come back and tie the game in the first half, and that gave us a lot of energy. We tried to keep up the momentum, but it was hard. Quaker Valley is a very good team.

“It was tough for the seniors as it was our last time on the field together. We wished we could’ve played a little more together that game, but I am still proud of all that we accomplished this season. We set several records that no one can take away from us.”

Fischer and junior Rayla Smith each scored two goals in the loss, while sophomore Bella DiFrancesca and freshman Carly Venanzi each tallied a goal.

Freshman goalkeeper Malayna Smith made nine saves.

“Even though we were the higher seed against Quaker Valley, we knew it was going to be a tough game,” Smith said.

“We thought we were going to go a little further than we did. But I am still proud of the things we did this season. It will be tough losing the seniors, but I think we are in good shape to come back next year and go for it again.”

Smith heads into her senior season with a school-record 183 goals. She set the all-time mark in a 15-4 victory over Ellis on May 10.

She surpassed the previous record of 179 set by 2010 Plum graduate and Washington & Jefferson defensive/midfield standout Sam Casile.

Smith’s two additional goals against Quaker Valley gave her a team-high 62 for the season.

Coaches within Section 1 and throughout Class 2A recognized her efforts with selection to both the all-section and All-WPIAL teams.

It is Smith’s third All-WPIAL designation in as many seasons.

“I couldn’t have gotten there without my team,” Smith said. “I couldn’t score the goals or make the plays without them, and I thank them so much for being there. We do what we can to help the team win, but it’s also nice to be recognized (by the coaches).”

Fischer, who will continue her lacrosse pursuits in college at St. Francis (Pa.), added all-section honors for the Mustangs. She finished her final varsity season with 47 goals and 30 assists.

“Winning the section was something we all will always remember about the season,” Fischer said.

“We hadn’t done that before, and we worked so hard to get it. It was special to be a part of that, especially doing it in my senior year and it being the last chance to do it.”

Plum finished 11-0 in section and close wins against Hampton, Franklin Regional, Indiana and Penn-Trafford aided in the run to the undefeated mark.

The 8-6 victory over Hampton ended a long win streak for the Talbots in section play.

In addition to Smith’s and Fischer’s goal-scoring efforts, DiFrancesca and junior Sophie Anderson contributed a strong season offensively with 40 and 25 goals, respectively.

Fischer’s 30 assists were a team high, and Smith added 29 helpers. Junior Allie Venanzi recorded 14 goals and 13 assists.

Senior Hope Doty, who split time in goal and on defense this season, will play in college at Edinboro.

Emma Warner, Madison Bevacqua, Ashley Harchick, Dannika Susko and Payton Brenner also wrapped up varsity careers as seniors.

The team’s direction, Anderson said, wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership of first-year coach Domenic Banabei, who was an assistant the previous five seasons, and new assistant coaches in former Plum players Victoria Turchick, Tifani McElhose and Gabrielle Walkup.

“That made the transition so much easier, having the new coach be so familiar with the team and the players and how we played together,” Anderson said.

“With former players as assistants, they know the program through playing here. It was a lot of fun getting to know them more.”

Anderson, Smith, Venanzi, DiFrancesca and others coming back are ready to put in work in the offseason to be ready to do it all over again in 2024.

“Our program is in great shape,” Smith said. “We have a lot of girls coming up from eighth grade, and the youth program is doing well with a lot of girls participating and learning the game at a young age. That foundation helps when it comes to the high school teams.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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