Mars boys soccer chasing 6th straight section championship

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Thursday, September 26, 2019 | 3:07 PM


The beat goes on for the Mars boys soccer program.

Under the guidance of veteran coach Chris Knauff, the Fightin’ Planets have advanced to the WPIAL playoffs 12 years in a row and won eight section championships during that span.

It appears to be more of the same in 2019, as Mars is well on its way to clinching a sixth consecutive section title and seventh in the eight seasons.

“The team has high expectations for themselves,” said Knauff, who began coaching the Fightin’ Planets in 2007. “We’ve been very close to getting a WPIAL championship a few times recently, and they want to be the team to get us over the line. It’s more of a goal than an expectation.”

Mars started the second half of section play with a 7-0 win against Kiski Area, improving to 7-0-1 in Section 1-AAA and 8-1-1 overall.

Through 10 games, the Fightin’ Planets posted three shutouts and won four times while allowing just one goal. They outscored the opposition 51-11 overall.

“It’s been a great start to the season,” Knauff said. “We’ve had a few key injuries but a strength of our team is our depth. When a player goes out, I know there is a full second squad ready to go.”

Two key players in this year’s lineup are Austin Rocke, a senior forward/midfielder, and Steve Papik, a senior midfielder.

“They have stood out as guys that can carry a lot of the load,” Knauff said.

Papik is a two-year starter and three-year letterman who enjoys playing golf in his spare time. Papik, who owns a 3.9 GPA, and senior defender Seth Grady are team captains.

“So far, the team has been playing really well,” Papik said. “With the record we have, we can’t be disappointed, but there is always room for improvement. If we fix a couple things we’ve been working on, we plan to go far this year.

“Our expectations remained high from last season. We obviously look to try to win the WPIAL, and our boys know what we need to do to be the best every year, and every game we go out and try to prove that. We are a very fast, fit team that plays with a lot of passion.”

There are nine seniors and nine juniors in the program this season. Along with Rocke, Papik and Grady, seniors consist of forward Easton Carter, midfielders Aiden Sanders and Aedan Skirtich, and defensemen Zach Carter, Luke Harvey and Jacob Jedry.

The junior class is represented by forward Dane Beller, midfielders Nabil Lahlou and Tyler Nymberg, defensemen Brady Nihoff, Ryan Pasko, Nick Porter and Trent Wick, plus goalkeepers Mitchell Schultz and Jacob Gareis, who is injured.

“Every player on my varsity squad has started multiple games,” said Knauff, who is assisted by Cameron Frank, Nate Lyons and Blair Gerlach. “That list includes all juniors and seniors, and sophomores (midfielders) Gabe Singh and Zack Campagna.”

Knauff’s coaching career at Mars has been a smashing success. Since 2007, the Fightin’ Planets have won two WPIAL titles (2008-09), finished as a WPIAL runner-up four times, were WPIAL semifinalists twice, and qualified for the PIAA tournament seven times.

Knauff compiled a dazzling 201-50-13 overall record prior to the start of this season.

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