Plum soccer reached goals despite dramatic playoff loss
Friday, November 1, 2019 | 6:37 PM
If someone had told Plum boys soccer coach Raf Kolankowski before the season that his team would have been leading in a WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal with five-plus minutes remaining, he would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.
What happened in those final five-plus minutes, where Canon McMillan scored twice to steal a 3-2 win, was heartbreaking, but it didn’t define the season, Kolankowski said.
Instead, the season will be remembered for the many achievements the team checked off and could be looked back upon as one that set a new standard.
Plum won a section title and a playoff game for the first time in 14 years and finished with a record of 16-1-1.
“Every single goal that we had, we met,” Kolankowski said. “Maybe we should’ve had a little bit deeper goals, but our goals were that we wanted to go undefeated at home, win the section and then finally win that first playoff game, and we achieved all of them. Next year, one of our goals will be to go a little bit deeper into the playoffs.”
Part of that goal list meant knocking off defending section champion Norwin to get atop the standings.
After tying the Knights on the road, 1-1, on Sept. 5, the Mustangs got a 4-2 win in the rematch on Sept. 24, which proved to be the decider in winning their first section championship since 2005.
Then came getting over the playoff hurdle. The Mustangs received the top seed and got an interesting draw in the quarterfinals in Upper St. Clair.
Out of the previous three playoff trips, the loss that hurt the players the most was in 2017 when they lost to the Panthers 2-1 in overtime in controversial fashion with a missed offsides call on the game-winner.
It was fitting, in a sense, that the Mustangs exorcised their playoff demons against the Panthers. DD Flowers had a hat trick and A.J. Koma also scored as Plum rolled to a 4-0 win.
“The seniors were talking about that (Upper St. Clair playoff loss) even before the season started,” Kolankowski said. “They said that was the one that got away from them and it was their motivation. It just so happened that we got to play them in the first playoff game. It was good, and I was very ecstatic, especially for the seniors.”
The quarterfinal win set the stage for the semifinal with Canon-McMillan where Plum had 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but goals from Joey Fonagy and Owen Maher that came off of set pieces in the final five-plus minutes propelled the Big Macs to victory.
Canon-McMillan went on to win the WPIAL championship.
“Canon-Mac is a very good team and there’s a reason why they were the preseason favorite to win it all,” Kolankowski said. “We have nothing to hang our heads about. We competed with them and I think we showed we can compete with the big dogs in Quad A.”
Plum had four players that made first-team all-section: senior forward Tyler Kolankowski, senior midfielder Luke Gildea, senior center back Cole Kelly and junior keeper Gabe Kuhn. Kolankowski was honored as the coach of the year.
Tyler Kolankowski, Gildea and Kelly were senior tri-captains who played a big role in paving the way this season.
“I want to thank our seniors,” Coach Kolankowski said. “This is probably one of the most successful senior classes that we’ve ever had at Plum. They made the playoffs every single year and have done very well.”
The Mustangs return a very good core, including Flowers, Koma, Kuhn and Luke Kolankowski.
“I’m pleased with the guys coming back,” Coach Kolankowski said. “I played a lot of younger guys this year to try and get them experience, so when the training season starts next year, they already have a few games under their belt. I think we are in a good place for the next few years.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer