Familiar postseason foes Mars, Plum meet again for WPIAL Class 3A soccer title

Thursday, November 4, 2021 | 7:01 PM

For the third consecutive season, the Mars and Plum girls soccer teams will meet in the WPIAL Class 3A championship, with the latest installment taking place at 1:15 p.m. Saturday at Highmark Stadium.

The top seeded Planets (15-0-1) won the past two meetings, but the No. 2 Mustangs (19-1-1) are hoping the third time’s the charm.

“That’s the phrase we’re using right now, but it’s a privilege to be back. The girls have worked really hard,” Plum coach Jamie Stewart said. “Mars continues to be the class here in 3A. We’ve played really good soccer throughout the season. I think it will be a great match.”

Mars coach Blair Gerlach said: “I might be a little bit biased, but I think this is the game that everybody wanted to see. You always want to see the 1 (seed) versus the 2, and you always want to see the rematch. In this case, it’s a rematch to a rematch so I think this is a game people are excited about.”

Most thought Mars would regress this season after losing nine players to graduation in the spring. But the Planets, playing in their fifth consecutive district final, are back, looking for their eighth WPIAL championship this millennium with a new mix of players who have learned much from their predecessors.

“We had a really special class that graduated last year,” Gerlach said. “There was fantastic leadership that was passed down to the younger players who are now starters. The culture here is where the girls are always pushing and working hard, never settling.

“A lot of what I heard in the preseason was that this was the Mars rebuilding year and that we would never recover from losing that class.”

However, Mars comes into the title game winners of 15 matches in a row, including a first-round win over Laurel Highlands (7-1), a quarterfinal victory over Hampton (3-1) and a semifinal win Tuesday over South Fayette (2-0). Plum, meanwhile, had their lone loss of the season a month ago and advanced through the playoffs by shutting out Penn Hills (7-0), Oakland Catholic (6-0) and Montour (1-0) in the semifinals, also Tuesday.

Those shutouts by the Mustangs are a product of the system taught by Stewart and his staff.

“We preach defense. Our backfield and midfield do a really good job playing collective defense,” Stewart said. “It continues to be the whole collective unit playing defense that allows us to keep goals off the scoreboard, and we get great goaltending.”

Defense is key for Mars as well, as the Planets have allowed just two goals this season. The Planets’ back line has aided in the shutouts, but that does not mean the keepers have not done a great job. Senior Megan Boddy and sophomore Kate McEnroe have split time in goal.

“We haven’t given up a lot of opportunities this year, so a lot of times they don’t get to show how well they can play,” Gerlach said. “A lot of the coaches who play against us say that they don’t know if they’re good or not. That’s tough because these two goalkeepers have done a nice job.”

As for the key to the game, it’s basically the same for both coaches.

“Stay composed and not get frustrated based on the situation,” Gerlach said. “Stick with the plan and don’t abandon ship too early.”

Stewart said: “Understanding the game and reacting to the situations that are presented. We did that pretty well against them last year. We reacted pretty well to some of the things that happened out there.”

The teams have seven players between them who made the All-WPIAL team and 12 on the All-Section teams. Piper Coffield, Aly Cooper, Leana Cuzzocrea and Gwen Howell for Mars, and Kaitlyn Killinger, Marissa Liberto and Kaley Simqu for Plum landed on the district team.

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