North Xtra: Despite some attrition Mars girls soccer continues to win
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There are many accomplishments that showcase how far the Mars Area girls' soccer team has come since 2009.
There are the back-to-back Section 2-AA and WPIAL championships in 2010 and '11. There is the 2011 PIAA championship. There is the overall 49-1-1 record over the past two years.
This year there are still tangible signs of where the program is.
Mars has managed to replace All-WPIAL talent such as Mani Brueckner, Crysta Ganter, Kristen Check and Kristen McKenzie and hardly skipped a beat.
The Planets are ranked No. 2 in Class AA and were 7-1-1 overall and 7-0 in Section 2-AA heading into their game at home against Freeport on Wednesday.
"We still expect to be very competitive," Mars coach Blair Gerlach said. "Not only do we have a lot of major returners back, but a lot of the girls who are young got a lot of experience last year because of the fact that we did so well."
Mars won 14 of its 18 regular-season games last year by six goals or more, giving Gerlach the luxury of being able to give his younger players abundant playing time.
Mars has dominated section play this year, blasting section foes Freeport, Valley, Burrell, Deer Lakes, Highlands, Indiana and Knoch by a combined score of 65-2.
The Planets did lose their first game to a WPIAL opponent in more than two years, a 4-3 overtime loss to Class AAA power Pine-Richland on the road. Mars also tied Class AAA Norwin, 1-1.
"We lost one and tied one, that was good for us to stay grounded a little bit," Gerlach said. "It was good for us to play some top ranked teams out of Triple-A to see where we are and get a good idea of our level.
"The girls hadn't lost to a WPIAL team in more than two years, for them to lose to anybody, it was almost like, 'OK, now we can focus on trying to get better, the pressure is off.'"
Last season, Mars made a habit of jumping on opponents early.
"That was our biggest asset last year, almost every game we played last year we scored in the first five minutes, sometimes multiple times in the first five minutes," Gerlach said.
The Rams turned the tables on Mars this season, scoring two goals in the first five minutes. Mars rallied back to tie the game before losing in overtime.
"For the kids coming in early and taking on a major role, losing a game early in the season was a surprise to them," Gerlach said. "We have just been spoiled over the past couple of years, we have always seen that zero in the loss column for so long."
Within the section, Mars had its toughest game against Highlands. It was a 4-0 decision in favor of Mars.
"Highlands is doing quite well," Gerlach said. "They probably gave us the toughest game up until this point as far as the style they played. Our athleticism is very difficult to compete with. We are fortunate we can create a good amount of chances and if we jump on people early, we can close teams out quickly."
The new-look attack centers around junior forward Karli Paracca, a three-year starter. Paracca plays alongside junior forward Lydia Dennis. Paracca and Dennis are the top two scorers on the team.
Senior Bethany Perri and senior Patricia Glavin anchor the midfield.
The defense is a strength for Mars with all four defenders, seniors Jordyn White, Erica Schwab and Amber Ficther and junior Shaelyn O'Connor, returning along with returning starting goalkeeper, junior Sarah Dailey.
"Defensively we have the same back four and the same goalie, we are not conceding very many goals," Gerlach said.