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2 games from glory

Mars midfielder Ellie Coffield (3) is among the leaders of the Mars girls soccer team, which takes a 20-0-1 record into its PIAA 3A semifinal game against Archbishop Wood Tuesday.
Mars girls soccer team adding to already rich postseason tradition

COLLIER TWP — Temporary hurdle conquered.

Such can be said about the Mars girls soccer team's 4-0 win over West Allegheny in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals Sarurday at Chartiers Valley High School. The Planets had not advanced beyond that round in eight years, after all.

The success of the program?

Anything but temporary.

To the contrary, Mars' winning ways on the pitch have been sustained for a number of years now.

In the past decade alone, the Planets have won three WPIAL championships, a state title and have posted a record of 188 wins, 21 losses and seven ties.

They will look to extend that success in the PIAA 3A semifinals against Archbishop Wood when the teams clash at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Bald Eagle High School.

“To sustain success, I like to stagger our lineup,” Mars coach Blair Gerlach said. “I don't like to have a bunch of senior starters in any given season because then you lose all of those starters at the same time.

“I like to structure our lineup so we have freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors starting each season. Then you only lose a couple of starters each year.”

Mars' starting lineup for the West Allegheny game featured three seniors: 37-goal scoring forward Taylor Hamlett, midfielder Anna Kurpakus and defender Gwen Howell.

Sophomore forward Aly Cooper was in the lineup. The rest of the starters — 29-goal scoring midfielder Ellie Coffield, 20-goal scoring forward Caroline Wroblewski, defenders Ellie Howell, Gracie Dunaway and Erin Rodgers, goalkeeper Courtney Lisman — were juniors.

That lineup changes from time to time.

“We keep everybody involved,” Gerlach said. “If you don't start varsity, you dress for JV. We have players pushing each other constantly.

“We're fortunate here to have so many girls who are hungry for minutes. We still have 36 players suiting up for each game this deep into the playoffs.”

The Planets have allowed only nine goals all season. In six postseason games this year, they've outscored the opposition 30-1.

“We recognize how important defense is,” Dunaway said. “Everybody contributes that way. We take a lot of pride in it.

“Limit the opponent's opportunities to score. That's the key.”

Scoring the first goal is another key.

“You always want to score first, especially in the playoffs,” Gerlach said. “We have an attack mentality. There is an expectation here. But that expectation doesn't come from me. It comes from the players.

“Our seniors welcome the freshmen in. They tell them they're happy to have them. They also tell them this is how we do things. This is what works for us. And the development begins.”

Coffield said the players know about the tradition and expectations that come with Mars soccer.

“You just develop your skills through the system here,” she said. “You pretty much grow into being a Mars soccer player.

“It's not about us as individual players. It's about us putting our skills together as a team.”

Hamlett, Coffield, Wroblewski and Dunaway are captains of the 2019 squad.

Gerlach refers to the soccer portion of his relationship with the players as “a bonus.” He just enjoys being around the group.

“These are simply great, positive, upbeat young people,” the coach said. “Those captains make my job so much easier. All I have to worry about is coming up with the X's and O's.

“The captains know what the team needs. If a joke needs to be told, they tell it. If there's an issue, they fix it.

“These girls are constantly working to get better. A guys' team, at this point, might figure, 'hey, we got this.' Not this group. They are never satisfied with their level of play,” Gerlach added.

Hamlett is one of the leaders in that regard.

“Total effort, all the time,” she insisted. “We accept nothing less.”

The last Mars team to reach the state semifinals (2011) went on to win the state championship. That team went 25-0-1, scored 195 goals and allowed eight. Its lone blemish was a 2-2 tie with Knoch.

This year's team is 20-0-1, has scored 125 goals and allowed nine. Its lone blemish is a 3-3 tie with Seneca Valley. No other team has scored more than one goal against the Planets.

“The competition gets stiffer with each round you go,” Gerlach said. “You go out, play your game and hope for the best.

“But I'll say this: We've got a confident, determined group here.”