Highly successful Mars girls soccer team off to another fast start

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Sunday, September 22, 2019 | 10:40 PM


Over the past decade, the Mars girls soccer program has experienced a tremendous run on the pitch.

The Fightin’ Planets have advanced to the WPIAL playoffs 10 times, won nine consecutive section titles, racked up four WPIAL championships and finished as a WPIAL runner-up three times, qualified for the PIAA tournament seven times, captured a PIAA crown and logged a PIAA second-place finish.

The common thread?

Coach Blair Gerlach, who began his 13th season in charge of the girls team with a 206-36-13 career record.

“Our expectations are to be competitive every time we step on the field, during games and at training sessions,” Gerlach said. “Part of my philosophy is to try to have age variety on the field so there is never a true rebuilding year where you graduate eight or nine senior starters and have to start over.”

Last season, Mars posted a 15-0 regular-season record that included 12 shutouts, strung together an 18-game winning streak, wrapped up their WPIAL season as the Class 3A runner-up and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals. Mars finished 19-2 overall, outscoring the opposition 89-7 and attaining 16 clean sheets defensively.

Prior to the WPIAL championship game, the 2018 squad was ranked among the 25 best teams in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer. Two of the team’s standouts — center back Kaitlyn Pietrusinski and goalkeeper Clair Valentine — are playing soccer at Westminster and West Liberty, respectively.

Mars, which has been ranked No. 1 in its division since the preseason, stormed out of the gate with a 5-0-1 record this season before blanking Kiski Area, 2-0, on Sept. 18 in a key section test.

Near the season’s halfway point, the Fightin’ Planets stood in first place in Section 1-3A with a 6-0 record, ahead of Hampton (4-1), Kiski Area (4-2), Franklin Regional (3-3), Indiana (2-2), Gateway (2-3), Armstrong (1-5) and Knoch (0-6).

“We hope to make a solid run in the playoffs and get a good bounce here and there,” said Gerlach, who is assisted by Joe Haefner and Crysta Ganter. “We have done well so far. We are working hard to develop our team identity and playing style. I think two of our strengths are our versatility and depth.”

Team leaders consist of captains Taylor Hamlett, Gracie Dunaway, Ellie Coffield and Caroline Wroblewski.

Hamlett is a senior. Dunaway, Coffield and Wroblewski are juniors.

“So far, we have been competing well,” Wroblewski said. “We make sure to never underestimate any opponent. We just play our game and do what we need to do to be successful.

“We compete and work hard every day because making each other proud is more important than anything.”

Dunaway anchors a defense that also includes senior Grace Ingram, junior Erin Rodgers and freshman Gwen Howell.

Dunaway noted a section championship is a goal, along with a solid performance in the playoffs.

“So far, we have been playing pretty well,” she said. “Even though we’ve won all our section games, we still started off a little shaky just because we needed to get into the the groove of things. But now everything seems to be running pretty smoothly, and we are playing better as a team. There is always room for growth and improvement. Our expectations are to continue to play well and keep improving.

“One of our team strengths is that we all get along and like each other, so it makes it much easier to compete and play together. And that is what you need to win games.”

Coffield, senior Anna Kurpakus, junior Ellie Howell and sophomore Jenna Jedry start at midfield.

Wrobewski, senior Taylor Hamlett, junior Sami King and sophomores Aly Cooper and Londynn Gonzalez are forwards.

Courtney Lisman, a junior, is Mars’ starting goalkeeper.

Hamlett, a Middle Tennessee recruit, Wroblewski, Coffield (Pitt) and Dunaway (Purdue) are the team’s leading scorers. Wroblewski has had discussions with representatives from a few Division I schools.

“Our goals are to improve every day as a team, stay healthy and hopefully make a deep run in the playoffs,” Wroblewski said.

Prior to his sensational tenure as the girls coach at Mars, Gerlach coached the Fightin’ Planets boys soccer team for six seasons.

He compiled a 74-25-3 record with the boys program, giving him a career mark of 280-61-16 before this season.

Mars has seven WPIAL titles in girls soccer, the last in Class AA in 2015.

And not only is another banner season on the horizon for the Fightin’ Planets, the future appears bright as well.

The Mars junior varsity squad also is undefeated.

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