The battles between Mars Area and Hampton the past few years always went a long way in determining how Section 2-AA and the WPIAL Class AA season would play out.
Now that Hampton has moved up to Class AAA, the games no longer have an impact on section standings or the pecking order in WPIAL Class AA, but in terms of indicators for a season, their non-conference showdown on Saturday meant plenty for both teams.
Mars went on the road to Hampton and knocked off the Talbots, 4-1.
"I was sad to see them move out of our section," Mars coach Chris Knauff said. "They were our biggest competition. I loved the rivalry. I was definitely very pleased with our play [on Saturday], but I really think it was a closely fought game, the 4-1 score was not a blowout, it was hard fought. They had chances, we had chances, we just finished a lot of our chances."
As much as the game served as an indicator for Mars, Knauff hopes it was also a sign of things to come for his top goal scorer Spencer Posey. The senior midfielder erupted for all four goals in the game.
"Spencer is 'the man' this year," Knauff said. "I am sure Hampton knows him, but even knowing what to expect, it is still hard trying to shut him down. He moves around so well. He is a very well-rounded player. He has excellent composure on the ball. He is a player who is always confident even if he receives the ball with very little space. He is confident he can get out; he never panics."
Last season Mars split its two meetings with Hampton, winning, 2-1, at home and losing, 2-0, on the road. The Planets advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals while Hampton would go on to win the WPIAL Class AA championship and reach the PIAA semifinals.
"I loved how we prepared each other for the postseason," Knauff said of their old Section 2-AA battles. "There are a lot of teams in Double-A who kind of walk into the postseason. We never wanted to be one of those teams."
Knauff anticipates his team's biggest section challenges to come from Shady Side Academy and Knoch this season. The teams finished 3-4 in the section last year, respectively. Shady Side Academy and Knoch each tied Mars once last season.
"Shady Side Academy has been strong the last couple of years," Knauff said. "Knoch has always been a little rival of ours, overshadowed by the Hampton rivalry. We have a pretty long history with Knoch. I would expect those teams to give us good games."
Mars returned seven starters this season. The biggest hole to fill will be replacing goalkeeper Garrett Gabriel who graduated. Currently, senior Joe Kelly, freshman Dale Glavin and senior Ed Brand are in the mix to see time in net. Kelly played in the win against Hampton.
The rest of the graduation attrition was spread out with one defender, one midfielder and one forward graduating.
The returning starters back for the Planets are sophomore defender Ian McNany, senior defender Logan Yoe, junior midfielder Jesse Perfett, senior midfielder Nick Martinelli, sophomore midfielder Noah Hudac, junior forward Matt White and Posey.
Knauff plans on running a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 formation.
Mars opened section play at home on Tuesday with a 4-1 win against Deer Lakes as Posey scored three more goals. The Planets travel to Highlands for another section contest tonight.
This weekend they will face Gateway and Obama Academy in the Pine-Richland tournament on Friday and Saturday.