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Mars girls soccer team has talented roster returning

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Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Happy teammates greet Mars Area High School's Dillon Wright after she scored a goal against Burrell during a WPIAL soccer match at Mars, Monday, September 29, 2014.
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Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Mars midfielder Tori Kopchak and Yough midfielder Taylor Powell battle for a header in their WPIAL Class AA girls soccer semifinal Oct. 27, 2014, at Canon-McMillan in Canonsburg. Mars shut out Yough, 3-0.
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Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Mars goaltender Sammy Papik makes a save in front of Yough forward Emily Franzetta in their WPIAL Class AA girls soccer semifinal at Canon-McMillan on Oct. 27,2014, in Canonsburg. Mars shut out Yough 3-0.
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Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Mars midfielder Dillon Wright battles Yough forward Jessica Moore for a header in their WPIAL Class AA girls soccer semifinal at Canon-McMillan on Oct. 27,2014, in Canonsburg. Mars shut out Yough 3-0.

The Mars girls soccer team was supposed to have a “down” year this fall.

With only two seniors and plenty of holes to patch in the lineup, the Fightin’ Planets faced plenty of questions entering the year.

The young squad filled in quite a few of those blanks with a run to the WPIAL Class AA championship match and PIAA quarterfinals.

“We started with a very young and inexperienced team. We had a lot of players adjusting to different positions to fill different roles,” Mars coach Blair Gerlach said.

“All of a sudden, they found themselves winning and bought into the idea they could do well. It was surprising to some people. It was really great to see a lot of growth in a short period of time.”

Mars was a work in progress throughout the season. The team rolled to another undefeated Section 2 title (12-0) and finished the regular season with a 15-3 mark.

The Planets increased their section unbeaten streak to 73 (72-0-1). Their last section loss came Oct. 3, 2009, against Seneca Valley, 2-1.

The lone tie in that streak came against Knoch (2-2) on Sept. 26, 2011.

“We didn’t have the five or six big-name players we were used to having, so we had to play a different style. We spread around the goals and had to find a way to win differently,” Gerlach said.

“That was the fun part for me. I changed the starting lineup four or five times. We changed formations a lot. The girls were OK with it. Whatever we wanted them to do, they were pretty receptive. They understood.”

Making a long playoff push should benefit the team next year, Gerlach said.

“I think it’s irreplaceable. It sets up an expectation for next year. We’ll have nine starters back,” he said.

“I was very proud of them. They wanted to live up to the standard that’s been set. I was very proud of them in how they handled their losses as well as a couple surprising wins they had.”

Mars beat Greensburg Salem (4-1), Central Valley (1-0) and Yough (3-0) to reach the WPIAL title match, where the squad was looking for its fourth title in five years.

However, Montour upended the Planets, 3-1.

Mars opened PIAA play with a 5-0 win against Clearfield, but dropped a 2-1 decision to Villa Maria in the quarterfinals.

“We can’t win by just showing up. We have to do the work day-in and day-out. A lot of players on the field, if they weren’t freshmen, they were first-year players on the varsity team,” Gerlach said.

“They used to be able to sit back and watch a couple of dominant-type players find a way to win. Now, it’s their turn, and they didn’t realize how much pressure goes into it. It wasn’t me putting pressure on them; it was them understanding they don’t want to be the team that disappoints. There’s a legacy now. It was a learning experience.”

While the team returns nine starting players, including its entire defense in Amber Lisman, Shannon Doyle, Annabel Hnath, Judy Kahn and goalkeeper Sammy Papik, no spots are cemented.

“One of the biggest things is that a lot of programs get content. Our goals are always to win the section and make run at WPIALs and qualify for the state playoffs. The cool thing is, I don’t know who the players will be,” Gerlach said.

“A lot of underclassmen aren’t going to be content just to be on the team. They want to be on the field and contributing factors.

“We have enough competition in our training sessions in the preseason where we battle test each other. Sometimes our training sessions are more competitive than our games. That’s great. It doesn’t give you the opportunity to turn it off. You either have to perform or you don’t play.

“We’re going to be able to be competitive year-in and year-out as long as we buy into the fact that hard work and dedication will get us to where we want be, which is making a legit run every year.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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