North Xtra: WPIAL champ Mars motivated for 2013

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In the history of WPIAL girls soccer there have been 14 back-to-back WPIAL champions.

That is still prestigious company for a league that has been crowning champions in multiple classifications since 1983.

Mars became a back-to-back champion last season and the Planets did this season what only two other back-to-back champions have ever done, win its third in a row.

Mars captured its third consecutive WPIAL Class AA title this season to join Sewickley Academy (2002-04) and South Park (2006-08) in achieving that feat.

The Planets wrapped up their season with a 20-2-1 record and a Section 2-AA title to go along with twheir WPIAL title. Their postseason run came to an end with a loss to Mercyhurst Prep in the PIAA quarterfinals.

As much as the third consecutive WPIAL title is an indication of where this program has come in a short period of time under coach Blair Gerlach, the reaction to the PIAA quarterfinal loss was just as telling. The team was hardly content with "just" a WPIAL title; it had its eyes on defending its PIAA title from last season.

"I think [losing in the PIAA quarterfinals] makes us hungrier," Gerlach said. "You have won one, you know what it's like to win it. You don't really know what it's like when you lose it. This settles in your gut a little bit, and you realize, we need to get better."

Mars has gained the respect of many of the programs in the state. The Planets have shown they were hardly a flash in the pan when they took Class AA by storm in 2010. Mars had historically played in Class AAA but after the PIAA divided into three classifications in 2010, Mars dropped to Class AA.

It has yet to lose a game to another WPIAL Class AA program in that time. It is 41-0-1 in section play and 69-3-3 overall since 2010.

"People are pretty invested emotionally and physically in the program," Gerlach said. "The kids are committed."

Mars only graduates five senior starters.

Defenders Jordyn White and Erica Schwab and midfielders Bethany Perri, Trish Glavin and Caitlin Foltz were the senior starters this season. White had 7 goals and was second on the team with 14 assists. Perri had 20 goals and 10 assists, Foltz had 9 goals and Glavin added 8 goals and 3 assists.

The Planets will return a majority of their scoring with junior forwards Karli Paracca (35 goals, 22 assists), Lydia Dennis (33 goals, 11 assists) and Amber Ficther (21 goals, 6 assists) and sophomore forward Sabrina Edwards (12 goals) all returning.

Junior goalie Sarah Dailey will also return.

Seneca Valley

Seneca Valley was able to bounce back from an opening-season loss to win a remarkable 19 consecutive games.

They brushed off the 1-0 setback to Hampton to dominate play in Section 2-AAA. The Raiders earned the No. 2 seed in WPIAL Class AAA tournament and won their first three playoff games to reach their third WPIAL final since 2007.

The Raiders ran into a Peters Township buzzsaw, first in the WPIAL finals and again in the PIAA quarterfinals. They lost both games to the Indians by one goal.

They finished their season 20-3 overall, only the second time the program has reached 20 wins in the past decade.

Sewickley Academy

Sewickley Academy posted one of the biggest win total improvements in the WPIAL this season. A year after a 13-5 campaign that ended in the WPIAL quarterfinals, the Panthers won 21 games and their season ended in the PIAA quarterfinals.

Sewickley Academy was undefeated in the regular season winning 17 games and tieing one, against Class AA Quaker Valley. The Panthers easily won the Section 1-A title with a perfect 14-0 record.

The Panthers advanced to the WPIAL finals, falling to Greensburg Central Catholic, 2-0. In that game the Panthers became only the third team this season to hold the high-powered Centurions to fewer than three goals.

Sewickley Academy defeated Conemaugh Township, 1-0, in the PIAA first round before bowing out in the PIAA quarterfinals to Shady Side Academy, 3-1.

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