Plum, Riverview athletes ink plans for college careers

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Sunday, November 19, 2023 | 11:01 AM


For many high school seniors throughout the WPIAL, Nov. 8 was the culmination of years or hard work, dedication and determination.

It also was a celebration as those athletes were able to finalize their decisions to continue on in their chosen path to the next level.

National letter of intent signing day for all non-football Division I and II athletes is somewhat of an end to one journey and the start of another that leads up to them joining their college teams next fall.

Plum senior Division I signees Ava Weleski (Robert Morris women’s soccer) and Jack Tongel (Pitt wrestling) led a group of eight from Plum who confirmed their decisions on the first day of the signing period.

Riverview senior soccer standout Lola Abraham, who joined her Raiders teammates in the attempt to win a PIAA Class A championship Saturday in Mechanicsburg, made her decision with Pitt final on the first day, one full year after verbally committing to the Panthers.

“Being able to play in college and have the opportunity to sign on with a good school, especially one at the Division I level, has been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a young kid,” said Weleski, an All-WPIAL selection for the Mustangs this past fall.

“I had been committed since February, but actually signing my name on the paper, I felt that extra-special feeling of accomplishment. It is real now. It feels so great that all my hard work has paid off.

“Now, the goal is to get faster and stronger and improve my endurance. I know I want to improve my game overall to be ready to play against girls who are older and stronger than me. I want to do my best to get matched up with them.”

Weleski finished her final Plum season with a team-best 23 goals and 12 assists. She helped the Mustangs win the program’s fifth straight section title with a 12-0 record and earn the No. 2 seed to the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs.

Plum made the quarterfinals before falling to state-qualifier Montour. It was the Mustangs’ only loss of the season

Tongel was a later verbal commit, announcing his decision Oct. 21. He said he’s excited to join a Panthers program which continues to make strides, both in the ACC and nationally.

“That (verbal commit) was something that was kind of brewing throughout football season,” said Tongel, who earned Big East Football Conference first-team honors at linebacker in 2023.

“I just wanted to finish that chapter (football) of my life and not take anything away from football by committing earlier. That is why I held out until when I did commit.

“Pitt, for me, has always been that one school for me, for football and wrestling. I’ve been going to wrestling matches there since I was 4 or 5 years old. My dad wrestled there. He was a four-year starter in the ‘80s. It just felt so right going there. I was so happy to make that decision final (on signing day).”

Tongel said he enters his final wrestling season at Plum hoping for big things. The two-time section place winner and WPIAL qualifier owns a three-year overall record of 61-39. He was 26-13 last year with 14 victories by fall.

It was a day of celebration at Plum as six others who have made impacts on successful Plum programs — Isabella DiFrancesco (Davis & Elkins women’s lacrosse), Sophie Anderson (Frostburg State women’s lacrosse), Jack Anderson (Washington & Jefferson baseball), Allie Venanzi (Chatham women’s lacrosse), Colin Watson (Cal Pa. baseball), and Megan Marston (Case Western Reserve women’s basketball) — confirmed their commitments.

Abraham, also a key member of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy club, verbally committed to join the women’s soccer team at Pitt a year ago. She said she has grown even stronger in her decision in the year since.

“It was a long time period, but I was able to stay in touch with the coaches,” said Abraham, a three-time All-WPIAL selection.

“When the day came up last week, it was a major accomplishment to sign and know that I was officially part of the program. It was an amazing feeling just knowing I was becoming part of a great family and strong winning culture. Having the coaches reach out that day and congratulate me made it even more special.”

The Pitt women’s soccer team took a 15-5-1 record into an NCAA Tournament second-round game Friday against Arkansas.

The Panthers, an ACC semifinalist, shut out Ohio State, 6-0, in the first round Nov. 11.

The early signing period for Division I and II football players starts Dec. 20.

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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