No WPIAL girls soccer team has won four consecutive WPIAL championships. Mars, a three-time WPIAL Class AA champion, is finding out why the club has a population of zero.
The Planets, already reeling from the graduation of five starters, lost three more seniors this season with offseason anterior cruciate ligament tears including 2012 leading scorer, forward Karli Paracca.
Coach Blair Gerlach will have to replace his two center backs and all three center midfielders. The graduated players include 2012 North Xtra player of the year Bethany Perri, a four-year starter who scored 20 goals and added 24 assists.
"We are still going to be competitive, we are still going to put a good product on the field," Gerlach said. "Not that you can replace a Karli Paracca, but fortunately for us she was not our only scoring option. We have three other kids who can score 30 goals."
Senior forward Lydia Dennis, senior midfielder Amber Fichter and junior forward Sabrina Edwards will be counted on to pick up the scoring void left behind by graduation and injuries.
"Fortunately for us we are really deep," Gerlach said. "I have kids who are going to start this year as juniors who would have started at other schools as freshmen. Our three main attacking players will be Lydia, Amber and Sabrina, but then there are four or five others who can make some noise. I wouldn't be surprised if we have several in that 10-15 goal range."
Fichter is a returning all-WPIAL selection. She mostly played in the midfield last season but often moved back to shore up the defense in the postseason. She is the most versatile player on a team full of versatility. After playing in mostly a 4-3-3 formation last season, Gerlach plans to alternate between three different formations depending on the opponent and situation during the game.
"We will be pretty versatile, we won't be the proverbial one-trick pony," Gerlach said. "Everybody is committed to team first. These kids are reaching out to me, saying to put them wherever, they just want to play. Everyone has really bought it, they are really committed to doing this as a group. I think we can make some noise, I am not going to predict a four-peat, but I still don't think we will be the easiest team to play."
While there will be inexperience at a few positions when Mars begins the season Saturday at Hampton, one area where there is plenty of experience is in net where three-year starter Sarah Dailey returns. Mars shut out 14 of 23 opponents last season.
Mars became the third WPIAL girls team to win three consecutive titles. The others were Sewickley Academy (2002-04) and South Park (2006-08).
Besides graduation and injuries, other roadblocks standing in the way of Mars and history include a group of teams from Section 3, Central Valley and Hopewell, and Section 5, Moon, Montour and Quaker Valley along with Mars section rival Knoch.
Moon graduated nearly its entire starting lineup but the Tigers are the defending PIAA Class AA champion. Central Valley and Hopewell shared the Section 3 title last season and both return a majority of their starters.
"We're looking forward to it," Gerlach said. "I like to see the kids compete and look to see who has grown into a new role, who is willing to take a team on their shoulders for a certain game. Everyone is going to lose a game this year. Our non-section games are very difficult but they need to be. We want to go into the playoffs battle tested."
With a non-section slate of games that includes Hampton, Pine-Richland, Norwin and Mt. Lebanon, a 20-2-1 season like 2012 might be unlikely but with the talent Mars has, a four peat is certainly still a possibility.