ADAMS TWP — Give Blair Gerlach the hat trick.
The veteran Mars girls soccer coach was recently named Pa. Soccer Coaches Association Coach of the Year. He was then named the United Soccer Coaches Association Region Coach of the Year, covering Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
Now Gerlach has been named the USCA's National Coach of the Year.
“He deserves that honor as much as anybody,” Mars athletic director Scott Heinauer said. “Back to back undefeated seasons, state championships, that speaks for itself.”
Gerlach referred to being named recipient of the award as “a very humbling experience.
“As a coach, it's rewarding to be recognized outside of your own local bubble. To me, it's a further indication that we're doing things right here.
“Mars isn't exactly known as a national soccer hotbed,” he added.
But it may be getting there.
“It's nice to know we're on the map,” Gerlach said.
Gerlach will receive the award virtually during a Zoom meeting in mid-January.
His two assistant coaches, Joe Haefner and Matt White, are both Mars graduates who played for Gerlach. Haefner, now a special education teacher at Mars, is in his fifth year coaching with Gerlach and played for his Planet boys team in 2005 and 2006.
White played for Gerlach's U-17 boys soccer team with Northern Steel. He signed a contract with the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger Cats as a kicker prior to the 2020 season.
When the CFL season was canceled, White joined Gerlach's coaching staff.
“I had a great experience playing for him,” White said of Gerlach. “He and I are good friends. When he found out the CFL season was canceled, he approached me about joining the staff.
“There is no junior varsity team. There's no varsity. It's a family. It's everybody together, regardless of the role. That's the culture Blair created here.”
When Gerlach learned he won the national award, his reaction was low key, White said.
“Blair is such a humble person. In his mind, that award is everybody's thing,” White added.
While Heinauer says Gerlach “eats, drinks and breathes soccer,” Haefner credits the coach's ability to build relationships as the key to his sustained success.
“He has the ability to get the most out of his players as they come into the program,” Haefner said. “Whether we're playing a preseason scrimmage, a section game in mid-October or playing in the state final, the game we're playing at the moment is most important and he instills that in each kid.
“The relationships Blair develops aren't just coach and player. It's coach and family. That communication is there.”
During in-game coaching, Haefner said the coaches are on the same page.
“We are different people, but we're all in sync,” he said. “One of the coaches will make a suggestion about an in-game adjustment and the other two were already thinking it. That happens all the time.”
Gerlach has coached with other prominent soccer coaches in the area, including North Catholic girls coach Emily Karr (at Mars) and Butler girls coach Steve Perri (Northern Steel).
“He takes as much pride in helping to develop coaches as he does coaching himself,” Heinauer said.
Mars has three seniors from this year's team — Ellie Coffield (Pitt), Gracie Dunaway (Purdue) and Caroline Wroblewski (Kent State) — headed to Division 1 soccer. Senior goalkeeper Courtney Lisman is weighing some offers from smaller schools.
Gerlach believes every one of his seniors could move on to collegiate soccer next year. Some are pursuing other options.
“They've all put themselves in position to play if they wanted to,” Gerlach said. “But these are high-academic students as well. Some are going to bigger schools to enter the medical field and want to concentrate on that. Erin Rodgers is going to Ohio State, as an example.
“The players have built all of this. They've put in the work. They've reaped the rewards.”
As has Gerlach.
“Soccer is his passion,” Heinauer said. “It's as simple as that.”