Mars girls soccer caps undefeated season with second straight state title

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Friday, November 20, 2020 | 6:11 PM


For the third time in program history, the Mars girls soccer team is leaving Hersheypark Stadium with PIAA gold in hand and big grins on their faces.

Purdue commit Gracie Dunaway scored a goal three minutes into their PIAA Class 3A championship match, and senior midfielder Samantha King shouldered in an insurance goal in with 27 minutes remaining in the second half as the Fightin’ Planets (19-0) defeated District 1 champion Villa Joseph Marie, 2-0.

“It feels just as nice this year,” Dunaway said. “We were still nervous coming in because we knew they were going to be a good team, but we played our hearts out and we got the win. It still feels really nice.”

Over the past three years, the Fightin’ Planets have been almost unbeatable. They’ve won two WPIAL championships and become the first WPIAL team to win back-to-back state titles since Moon in 2016-17.

They have also put together a 41-game unbeaten streak that dates to the PIAA quarterfinals in 2018. Their only blemish during that stretch was a 3-3 tie against Seneca Valley on Sept. 14 of last season.

They’ve been winning ever since then, a stretch of 36 games, and they weren’t going to let that streak end on the biggest stage of all. That’s what makes this particular group special.

“Here’s the thing. These girls like it when you tell them that they can’t do something,” Mars coach Blair Gerlach said. “So, over the last couple of days, I’ve been like, ‘Hey, do you guys really think that you can win this again?’”

The Fightin’ Planets proved that they could do just that, and it came against Villa Joseph Marie (12-1) for the third time.

In fact, every one of Mars’ PIAA titles have come against Villa. Despite their success, though, Gerlach knew they were in for a battle.

“A team like Villa can score three goals in five minutes,” Gerlach said. “So I wasn’t comfortable until that final buzzer.”

The Fightin’ Planets got the scoring started early.

Just three minutes into the game, junior forward Londynn Gonzalez made a move at the top of the 18-yard box and delivered a perfect through ball to Dunaway, who had slipped behind the back line. Dunaway took a touch around the keeper and fired her shot into the back of the net.

“The defense didn’t really see me coming in from the far side, and I was kind of hidden,” Dunaway said. “So I just kind of came across and got the goal.”

Dunaway almost got another a few minutes later on the same type of play, but Villa’s goalie Morgan Murphy came up with one of her biggest saves of the game.

As the first half wound down, the Jems started to take control of the game. They gained more possession in the middle of the field and started to get their outside midfielders involved more, which was what the Fightin’ Planets didn’t want.

“Their two outside wing players are who we game planned for mainly, and I was surprised that they weren’t on the ball as much as they wanted to be in the first 25 minutes,” Gerlach said. “But the last 15 minutes of that first half, they got comfortable, and they started liking the ball more, and it made us a little uncomfortable.”

Despite the pressure, the Fightin’ Planets were able to hold off the Jems. Villa came close to scoring right before half as junior midfielder Shea Riley ripped a free kick from about 35 yards out, but senior goalie Courtney Lisman came up with the big save to keep it at 1-0.

Twelve minutes into the second half, the Fightin’ Planets stole the momentum back as King scored the second goal of the game off an Ellie Coffield free kick. King said Ava Lewis got a head on the ball, but she shouldered it in to finish it off.

“I was just kind of in the right place at the right time,” King said.

Over the past few years, the Mars seniors have done something special, and their impact will be felt for years to come. Gerlach couldn’t have asked for a better group.

“These are a great group of kids, and the senior leadership will certainly be missed,” Gerlach said. “Not just by their playing ability, but just with how they take all these younger ones under their wing. It will be impossible to replace them, and we are definitely going to have to change a few things and play differently moving forward because we certainly lose some talent. But it couldn’t have happened to a better group than these seniors.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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