By: William Whalen
Friday, March 15, 2019 | 7:49 PM
After six years of being a varsity sport, dropping in WPIAL classification, getting a feeder program in place that is starting to churn out young talent, the Plum boys lacrosse team is finally poised to deliver a little payback and start winning some matches.
It’s finally the Mustangs’ time to shine.
“Our goal this year is that we want to win games,” Plum coach Tom Wesolowski said. “We’re determined and the kids have really bought in. The days of not knowing the sport are over.”
The 2019 team is arguably the most talented in the program’s short history. Wesolowski has been there every step of the way as the Mustangs coach.
“This is one of the more talented teams that we’ve had in our program as a whole,” Wesolowski said. “Every one of our players has played either in high school or has played through the youth program.
“Four years ago, we had to teach a kid what the ‘restraining line’ was and not to run through the ‘crease.’ Now we can start working on skills and the x’s and o’s of the game. It’s all starting to pay off.”
It hasn’t been easy for Plum (3-12 in ‘18). Trying to start a program at the highest WPIAL classification, like Class AAA, the Mustangs have taken their lumps. That’s why it was music to Wesolowski’s ears when he found out Plum would drop down to Class AA in realignment.
Gone are the blue bloods of the sport, including North Allegheny, Shady Side Academy and Fox Chapel. The Mustangs are finally fighting at their own weight.
“Playing in (Class AAA) the last two years, while the experience was great, it set us back a little bit,” Wesolowski said. “The confidence and the kids in the program, they were swimming in a big pool with big fish. I don’t think they were ready for that.”
Nevertheless, the competition is still stiff at the Class AA level. Plum earned two wins last season, both over Gateway, and picked up a forfeit win over Allderdice. Even with a small win total, there has been improvement in the opponents’ margin of victories in Plum’s losses last season. The Mustangs started closing the gap and this year are feeling good about themselves having gone toe-to-toe with the best teams in the WPIAL.
“We’re going to be more competitive for sure because the kids on our team are more experienced and have played at a higher level,” Wesolowski said.
“Losing by three or four (goals) last year was kind of a good character builder for us.”
Plum returns to the pitch having ushered out it first true class of lacrosse players last year. The Mustangs lost 10 seniors and six starters from last season. It’s rare that there’s optimism surrounding a program when there’s that kind of overhaul, but it’s the young athletes who are expected to give this program the shot in the arm.
“The nice thing is that the kids who were the underclassmen last year can take that next step and I can see it,” Wesolowski said. “I’ve seen the character building. The kids want to win.”
The Mustangs will be led by last season’s leading scorer in senior attacker Nick Hubner. Hubner’s linemates on the attack will be sophomores Zack Hartley and Eli Lefchik.
The sign of a budding program is roster numbers and position battles. Plum has both. At midfield, juniors Nick Pushic and Donovan Palmer have locked down starting spots. The final spot will come down to a trio of juniors in Tyler Vecchio, Tyler Milko and Jeremy D’Antonio.
“We were always one or two players short where as this year our club is real solid all the way up and down with talent,” Wesolowski said.
A couple of college lacrosse recruits will be roaming the back line. Senior John Kadlecik, an Akron commit, and Seth Norcutt, a Westminster football and lacrosse recruit, will pair up with sophomore Ryan Wesolowski to anchor the defense.
A seasoned underclassman in sophomore goalie Aric Curler will get the nod in goal for the second consecutive season.
“We really want to take the big step,” Wesolowski said. “I think this year the kids don’t want to go up just one rung at a time, they want to go up several rungs at a time.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.