Last season, the Mars Area High School boys basketball team advanced to the PIAA tournament for the first time in school history.
This season, even more is expected of the Fighting Planets.
Mars (12-2, 6-0) returned every key player from the 2011-12 squad, and that experience is one of the major reasons the team is currently No. 1 in the WPIAL Class AAA rankings.
"I've been excited for this season for a while," said Matt Getsy, a 6-foot-3 senior guard. "We were all juniors last season and got a taste of success, but I'm very excited for this season."
With a veteran roster, the Planets challenged themselves in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Mars faced Class AAAA squads Hampton and Seneca Valley, who have a combined record of 20-5, 2011 Class AAA WPIAL champion Montour and three out-of-state teams -- North Laurel, Ky., Holmes, Ky., and Windermere Prep, Fla. -- at the Rock Holiday Classic in Orlando, Fla.
The Planets won four of those six games. They fell to Hampton by one point on a basket in the final seconds of the game and lost by eight points to Holmes, which was 15-0 at the time.
"When we got to the conference portion of our schedule, we had already played in playoff-type games," Mars coach Rob Carmody said.
The Planets rolled through their first six games in Class AAA Section 1, winning by an average of 29.4 points per game.
The problem for opposing teams is they are unable to key on just one or two Mars' players. Seniors Getsy, Zach May, a 5-11 guard, Mitchell Buzard, a 6-1 guard, and Josh Goetz, a 6-8 center, all are averaging more than 10 points per game, while 6-0 senior guard Garrett Ashbaugh is close to nine per contest.
In addition, the team recently welcomed back 5-11 junior guard Owen Nearhoof from injury. Nearhoof averaged 13 points per game last season.
"The other team can put their best defender on one of our guys, but we can just space the floor and someone else will step up," Getsy said.
The team could get even stronger soon. Alex Locher, a 6-3 senior guard, is expected back in the next week or two, and May, who has been out recently, should also return shortly.
But the injuries have allowed reserves such as Ben Erdahl, a 6-0 senior guard, 6-0 junior guard Nick DeCamp and 6-0 junior guard Ethan Lewis to get more experience. Erdahl had a career-high 11 points Friday in a win against Highlands.
"They have responded well to increased playing time," Carmody said. "You always want to have your full complement of players, but we have confidence in all of our guys."
The confidence of the community has started to grow as well. Getsy said he can't remember the Planets' gym ever being as packed as it has been for every home game this season. And in the halls at school, the players are often congratulated from their fellow classmates.
But the team isn't letting their great start and No. 1 ranking get in the way of all they want to accomplish this season.
"I think our guys are just focused on the next day of practice," Carmody said. "It's a great compliment to be ranked No. 1, but it's really just where we are today.
"As far as I know, we aren't in the [WPIAL] playoffs yet. We could lose our next eight games. So it's great to talk about, but we still have to keep working hard."
First Published January 17, 2013 5:00 AM