Plum girls soccer hopes for return to playoffs under new coach

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Sunday, August 25, 2019 | 5:38 PM


Last season was one of change for the Plum girls soccer team as it moved from Class AAAA to Class AAA under the WPIAL’s biennial realignment process.

The Mustangs settled in against new competition in a new section. The results were positive as they tied Trinity for second place in Section 3-AAA at 9-3 and qualified for the WPIAL playoffs.

With 17 letterwinners back, Plum has refueled for what it hopes is a return to the postseason.

“We’re all really excited to be getting into the season,” said junior midfielder/forward Gina Proviano, an All-WPIAL selection in 2018 who led the team in goals with 18, giving her 35 in two seasons. “Our numbers are up and in our favor.”

Two of Plum’s three section losses last season were to section champion Oakland Catholic.

Those setbacks sandwiched a seven-game winning streak that saw the Mustangs outscore their opponents 22-0. Five of the victories were in section, and they helped Plum secure its runner-up place in the standings.

The Mustangs entered the Class AAA playoffs as the No. 10 seed and suffered a 4-0 first-round loss to No. 7 Kiski Area.

“We learned a lot from that game against Kiski, and it was motivation for us to work hard in the offseason and come back strong,” Proviano said. “We want to challenge for the section title and make a deeper run in the playoffs.”

This offseason brought change in the form of a new coach. Jamie Stewart, who served as an assistant coach at Gateway the past four seasons, was hired in June to replace Caitlin Schuchert, who stepped down in the spring for family reasons.

Schuchert since has returned to the sidelines as an assistant with the Norwin boys team.

“I’ve coached travel soccer for 15-16 years at all levels, but (Gateway) was the first time coaching at the high school level and I learned a lot,” Stewart said. “It was a good experience to see what it takes to coach at this level from two different coaches (Chris Spudich and Kelly Bender) who are very good.”

Stewart said he likes the way the team has come together over the summer, in preseason camp and in scrimmages against Latrobe and Norwin.

“The girls came out with an eagerness to work and learn right from the start,” Stewart said. “It’s a process. We want to try to be flexible with our formations based on who we play, and the girls understand that. We played different formations in each scrimmage and learned a lot. It was nice to see them on the field in game speed.”

In addition to Proviano, letterwinners from last year who have returned are seniors Tricia Fratangelo (midfield), Katie Patton (defense), Sophia Vargesko (midfield), Laura Pearlman (defense) and Hannah Odom (forward/goalkeeper); juniors Andrea D’Incau (defense/midfield), Carly O’Connell (midfield), Jamie Seneca (defense/midfield) and Sam Stewart (defense); and sophomores Emma Bennethum (midfield), Bailey Walker (midfield), Jade Tau (defense), Tori Ruggierio (defense), Brynn Emahizer (midfield), Maura Opina (midfield) and Marissa Liberto (forward/midfield).

“There’s 11 spots on the field, and there are a lot of players who want to be in those spots,” Stewart said. “We’re very deep, in my opinion, and there’s been a lot of good competition. With so many returning, that gives us good leadership and experience. That is great, especially in the section that we’re in.”

Junior goalkeepers Kelly Kvortek and Erica Taylor, Stewart said, have done well in competition to replace the graduated Zoe Nonnenberg and Aly Bryner, who split time in net last season.

Stewart said, in addition to the letterwinners and others, there also are several freshmen who hope to challenge for time on the field.

Plum begins its season Saturday at home against local rival Penn Hills. The match kicks off at 12:30 p.m.

The Mustangs visit Gateway on Sept. 3 for a nonsection match before hosting Obama Academy the next night to open section play.

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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