Mars center Josh Goetz pulls down a rebound against Connellsville at North Catholic's Don Graham Classic.
In the past few years, the boys basketball team at Mars has emerged as one of the steadiest winners in Section 1 and in Class AAA. Heading into this season, the Planets had won at least 16 games in three of the past four seasons, advancing to the WPIAL playoffs in each of those three seasons. Even with that success, one thing has eluded the program in that time and for much of the school's history -- a section championship. Mars has won only one championship in school history, which came in 1987, but it has a chance this season to potentially replicate that feat and more. More than halfway through the 2012-13 regular season, the Planets are the No. 1 team in Class AAA and are poised for perhaps their best season in school history. After going 18-8 last season with a roster that did not feature a senior, Mars has been buoyed by an extra year of experience for what is now a veteran team that includes 16 (of 22) players who are juniors or seniors.
Big man in the middle
Among the numerous players who have helped make a big difference for the Planets this season is senior Josh Goetz, a 6-foot-8 center who is 4 inches taller than the next-tallest player on the team (6-4 Adam Bayuk). Last season, in which Mars went 18-8 and advanced to the PIAA playoffs for the first time, Goetz played a supporting role, averaging eight points and 12 rebounds per game. This year, he still plays an important part on a team that features a balanced scoring attack, with four players (including Goetz) averaging double figures in scoring.
Strong basketball lineage
Mars coach Rob Carmody is in his 15th season with the program and has made a strong impact, helping lead the Planets to the enviable position where they are today. At least part of Carmody's coaching acumen, and the Planets' ensuing success, comes from where and for whom he played when he was a high schooler -- for the legendary Don Graham at North Catholic. Graham is the WPIAL's all-time leader in career wins.
Almost to the silver screen
Even if the Planets go on to capture a section title this season, they'll be in the company of at least 18 other WPIAL teams that were able to accomplish the same feat. Mars, however, is in a class by itself when it comes to another category -- being in a major motion picture. Though a scene featuring a speaking part from senior guard Garrett Ashbaugh ultimately didn't make it into the final cut of the film, members of the school's team were in the movie "Promised Land" starring Matt Damon. Part of the movie was filmed in the Alle-Kiski Valley area and the Planets were asked to be in a scene in a high school gym. It was a role that even offered, for high schoolers, hefty financial compensation. "They paid me $1,000 for one day, just to say two words," Ashbaugh said in an interview earlier this month. "All of our other players got something like $100 a day. Because I got paid more, I had to buy them all something to eat."
A two-sport standout
It's common for high school athletes to play multiple sports, but junior guard Owen Nearhoof happens to play the most visible position in the most high-profile high school sport in the area. Nearhoof is the quarterback for the Mars football team, coming off a strong season in which he helped lead the Planets to a 9-2 record and the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference championship. He threw for 738 yards and 10 touchdowns, helping orchestrate an offense that averaged 36.1 points per game. His football prowess isn't even unique in his family. Nearhoof's brother, Nolan, just completed a standout career as a defensive lineman for Robert Morris and another one of his older brothers, Ryan, played for the Colonials from 2007-10.