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Mars’ state title run in lacrosse proved 13 years in the making

Taking a moment during the celebration following the Mars boys lacrosse team’s win in last Saturday’s state championship game are, from left: Vince Grieco, Bob Marcoux and Bill Scurci. Submitted Photo
The Planets’ road to glory

Players, coaches and fans joined in the celebration following the Mars boys lacrosse team’s 9-6 victory over Marple Newtown in the Class 2A state championship game Saturday in West Chester.

The Planets (23-1) became the first WPIAL lacrosse team, boys or girls, to raise the state championship trophy. Teams from suburban Philadelphia had previously held a near-monopoly on state lacrosse titles.

Vince Grieco took in the jubilant atmosphere with a unique perspective.

It was 14 years ago that he founded Mars Alien Attack, a youth program which consisted of 43 players on a pair of third- and fourth-grade boys teams that officially introduced the district to lacrosse in the spring of 2009.

Playing against established programs, the Mars teams finished that first season with a combined record of 11-8. The sport proved very popular, leading to teams being added for fifth and sixth grade in 2010 and seventh and eighth grade and kindergarten through second grade in 2011.

When asked what he was thinking as the final seconds came off the clock in the state final last week, Grieco paused before responding.

“I get goosebumps just hearing that question,” he said. “It was a very emotional moment for me.

“I thought about those 43 kids who took a chance on a sport that the vast majority of whom knew nothing about. It was their enthusiasm and success that led to the next wave of players. That next wave included the players who just won the state championship.”

In 2010, Bob Marcoux joined the fold as a seventh- and eighth-grade coach. He’s been leading the varsity team since 2017.

“Vince is a master of organization,” Marcoux said. “He did a great job getting people involved at the youth level. Those youth teams are the biggest reason for our success. We continuously receive players at the high school level who already have good skills and fundamentals.

“After Saturday’s game, he was one of the first people I wanted to seek out. I wanted to thank him for getting the program started.”

Grieco played baseball and wrestled while growing up in Swissvale. He knew nothing of lacrosse until his college days at Saint Vincent.

“I saw some guys carrying lacrosse sticks and thought, ‘What is this all about?’

“They encouraged me to play and I fell in love with it,” he added. “To me, it’s the most enjoyable fun-while-you-play sport there is.”

When his oldest son, Anthony, was in grade school, Grieco hoped he could experience the same rush.

When a neighboring youth program turned him down, Grieco began work on Plan B. He took pamphlets including details on lacrosse to a Mars youth football banquet, intending to begin a program in his own district.

The rest is history, though many steps were taken along the way.

“Those first few years, our biggest challenges were (the availability of fields) and coaches,” Grieco said. “People volunteered to coach, but most of them didn’t know lacrosse. We had them watch instructional videos and paid for them to take part in a coaches clinic held by U.S. Lacrosse.”

The number of players coming out each spring proved that the sport was sustainable at Mars and the district’s first venture into varsity lacrosse came in 2013 when the Planets went 7-7 and reached the WPIAL playoffs.

This spring, Mars had approximately 160 boys from kindergarten through eighth grade playing lacrosse.

The quality of Mars’ youth teams helped produce an incredibly strong senior class this season — Quinn Fuller, Jacob Caringola, Nathan Silsby, Tucker Kush, Wesley Scurci, Josh Seipp, Austin Cote, Aidan Moffa and Luke Amell. They returned from last year’s state runner-up squad to spearhead the run to this year’s title.

All that was left was to fill voids in the coaching staff.

“We weren’t getting responses to our social media posts (about the openings),” said Bill Scurci, current vice president of the Mars Lacrosse Boosters. “So we expanded our search.”

That extra effort led to co-offensive coordinators Stephen Latona, Kyle Savage and Jordon Hodder (defense) joining Marcoux’s staff.

“We weren’t planning on adding three coaches, but all three are really good guys and have a lot of lacrosse experience,” added Scurci.

Each one also comes from areas with strong traditions in the sport. Latona hails from Maryland, Savage from Virginia and Hodder grew up in New York.

Vince Grieco coached youth lacrosse at Mars for 11 seasons (2009-19). His wife, Cathy, is the current president of Mars’ booster club. The couple has four children who have played for the Planets — sons Anthony, Jonathan, Enzo and daughter Emily.

Jonathan made 11 saves and Enzo scored two goals in the state-title victory.

The number of Mars players who go on to play after high school continues to grow. From this year’s team alone, Cote (Loyola University), Fuller (Jacksonville), Scurci (Lindenwood) and Seipp (Bellarmine) are each headed to college on athletic scholarships.

“From the start, we wanted to keep as many kids playing as long as possible,” Vince Grieco said. “So many people have helped along the way. Lacrosse has been embraced by some wonderful families at Mars.”

The success of the sport in the district is due, according to Bill Scurci, to “living by guiding principles.

“One of them is player development. We want the players to obtain the skills that are equal to those of teams in the east, help erode the belief that teams out there are just better than here in the western part of the state. I think it’s pretty clear we’ve done that.”