Plum pleased with progress after historic girls soccer season
Wednesday, November 6, 2019 | 6:58 PM
When Plum girls soccer team members gathered for summer workouts and then came together for official preseason practices in August, a buzz surrounded the talented but youthful group.
First-year head coach Jamie Stewart said he saw the potential, but hard work and determination would turn potential into a reality of success.
Fast forward two months and the Mustangs’ efforts brought about one of the most successful seasons in program history.
Tuesday’s penalty-kick shootout loss to Manheim Central in the PIAA first round three and a half hours away from home, Stewart said, can’t take away accomplishments such as the first section title since 2016 and the program’s first-ever WPIAL championship-game appearance and state-tournament berth.
“It was a pretty subdued atmosphere on the way home,” Stewart said. “It was tough, especially the way we lost. It was hard. But when the girls have some time to reflect back as the sting of the loss wears off, they will know they had a phenomenal season. It’s because of their work ethic and dedication to each other.”
Plum tasted defeat at the hands of Oakland Catholic on Sept. 7 at Highmark Stadium, and the setback to the conference-rival Eagles was its only loss of the regular season.
The Mustangs ripped off a 12-game unbeaten streak to finish the regular season, tied Oakland Catholic for the Section 3 crown at 11-1, and earned the No. 2 seed for the WPIAL playoffs.
Plum (17-3-1) edged Gateway on penalty kicks in the first round, doubled up Hampton in the quarterfinals and shut out West Allegheny in the semifinals to punch its ticket to the WPIAL title game against Mars at Highmark Stadium.
The semifinal win also clinched the trip to states.
“It’s a huge accomplishment to make it to the state stage,” Stewart said. “Only 16 teams in AAA were able to do that. The girls played a really strong game against a pretty good team from the east.”
Plum and Manheim Central, the District 3 champion, each scored a goal in the second half after a scoreless first 40 minutes.
Junior Jamie Seneca tallied her 11th of the season for the Mustangs. Each team finished with eight shots through 80 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime. Junior Erica Taylor made seven saves for Plum.
“Everybody bought into the team concept,” Stewart said. “I always say we play for the name on the front (of the jersey), not the name on the back. That was the goal going in, to focus on team results.
“We had a lot of players playing games, and we had a lot of freshman and sophomores get varsity time. They all built that camaraderie and teamwork, from top to bottom. They weren’t focused on who scored a goal. They were happy that a goal was scored and that each one helped win a game.”
Freshman Kaitlyn Killinger led the team with 18 goals. Junior Gina Proviano added 14, and sophomore Marissa Liberto finished with 12. Junior Emily Fitzpatrick had a team-best 11 assists.
Of the 17 players who saw the field Tuesday, only two — defenders Laura Pearlman and Katie Patton — are seniors. Six seniors overall will move on because of graduation.
“It’s always tough when there is a coaching change, especially when you are a senior,” Stewart said. “But this senior group’s willingness to be leaders and show the younger girls what it’s like to play at a varsity level was important and appreciated. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
With a large group coming back, expectations, no doubt, will be high for next year.
“This season was an exciting ride, and we want to do it again,” Stewart said. “But it doesn’t just happen without hard work. No one hands you a section title, a WPIAL championship berth or a spot in the state playoffs. Nothing is guaranteed. You have to work day in and day out to get back to where you were and go beyond that.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .