Plum girls soccer uses team-first approach to climb standings

Friday, September 20, 2019 | 7:52 PM

From the first meeting with his players, first-year Plum girls soccer coach Jamie Stewart’s message has been “team first.”

His goal was to get his players to work together and believe in each other.

The results on the field and the way they have achieved them has shown the buy-in level to Stewart’s message has been high.

From the goalkeepers to the backline to the forwards and midfielders, everyone has been contributing for the Mustangs, who are 7-1, 4-1 in Section 3-AAA.

“It’s nice to see the hard work they put in during the offseason and in camp show results on the field,” Stewart said. “We always talk about working as a team, and they’ve done a good job of that. We still have a lot of work to do. We still have goals for our team that we want to achieve, and they are still working hard. They come to practice and put the time and effort in from top to bottom.”

Plum has racked up goals and done a good job of preventing them. The Mustangs have scored five or more goals in seven games and have allowed one goal or fewer in six with two shutouts.

And it’s not just a couple of players scoring goals.

Thirteen players have scored, and eight of them have at least two goals.

The Mustangs’ depth, ability to control possession and strong communication skills have been a lethal combination.

“I honestly think it’s just the bond between our team,” midfield captain Emily Kirkpatrick said. “We’re all friends. We all have a good vibe and a good connection that makes it a lot easier to play together.”

Junior forward Gina Proviano and senior center back Katie Patton are also captains.

Kirkpatrick, a junior, did not play for Plum last year, instead focusing on training at the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy, but decided to join the Mustangs this year when Stewart was hired as the coach. Stewart was Kirkpatrick’s first coach when she started playing the sport.

Patton has been pleased with the consistency from the defense as well as with the play of goalkeepers Erica Taylor and Kelly Kvortek. The Mustangs had to replace her center back partner, Elena Banta, who graduated, and have found a good mix of players to anchor the defense.

“We’ve had a freshman (Kaley Simqu) step up and also a junior (Andrea D’Incau) that we can sub in there, too, that plays really well,” Patton said. “We have people that can rotate in and play the position well and communicate effectively. It’s been working well, as the results show.”

The lone blemish on the Mustangs’ record came in a 3-0 loss at Oakland Catholic on Sept. 7. The general feeling within the team was they played well but couldn’t capitalize on scoring chances. They hit a couple of posts in the first half, and the Eagles got a goal on a free kick late in the period. Then they added a couple more in the second half.

Stewart said that they aren’t looking past other opponents but have the rematch with the Eagles circled on the calendar.

The Mustangs host Oakland Catholic on Sept. 30.

“They’re probably our biggest rival, so we’re looking forward to seeing them again,” Proviano said. “I felt we dominated the play, but we just got really unlucky on our scoring opportunities. They scored, and we tried to tie it but when they scored again, I think some of our players put their heads down.

“We’re not going to do that again the next game. We’re going to come in strong, because we want to win. There will be no giving up next time.”

Plum came into the season with 17 returning letterwinners, and that experience has been an advantage. No one has scored more than two goals in a game. Proviano has 41 goals in her career and has been getting more assists this year. Stewart said he is happy with how she has grown her all-around game.

The expectation is the team-oriented focus and scoring depth will continue to push the Mustangs forward in their goal of securing a playoff berth and, possibly, a section championship.

“We have goal scoring from top to bottom,” Stewart said. “We’re not a one-person show or two-person show. Having a balanced attack is what we want. It’s not just one side of the field. It’s both sides. We have girls coming off the bench than can score and move the ball around for us. As a coach, that’s what you want.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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