Mars girls soccer team rolls past West Allegheny in PIAA playoffs

Saturday, November 9, 2019 | 10:21 PM

The Mars girls soccer team has been dominant against WPIAL opponents all season, and in its final meeting against a district foe this season, it wasted little time establishing the tone.

The Fightin’ Planets scored twice in the first five minutes Saturday, which went a long way towards breaking a string of bad luck in the state quarterfinal round.

Taylor Hamlett scored on a header off a corner kick in the second minute, and Ellie Coffield converted a penalty kick three minutes later as Mars rolled to a 4-0 win over West Allegheny in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals at Chartiers Valley.

With the win, Mars advanced to the PIAA semifinals for the first time since 2012, the last time it won a state championship. Mars will play either District 3 champ Manheim Central or District 12 runner-up Archbishop Wood in the semifinals Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.

Mars has had some tough results in the state quarterfinal round, including a 1-0 loss last year to Blue Mountain. They did not acknowledge that at training during the week, but once the streak was broken they were happy to discuss it.

“I think it is just coincidence that it has been this round,” Mars coach Blair Gerlach said. “In all sports there are those little superstitions that can get you. We did not bring it up before the game, but after the game we did bring it up. It told them, ‘Hey, there you go. We did it, and it’s all or nothing now.’ The competition is going to get even stronger.”

Anna Kurpakus hit a corner into the box in the second minute, and Hamlett, a Villanova recruit, found some space and headed the ball into the net. A few minutes later, Caroline Wroblewski drew a foul in the box and Coffield took the penalty, successfully drilling it past diving West Allegheny keeper Kayla Howard to make it 2-0 Mars five minutes in.

“Our goal is always to start quick, and getting a couple goals under our belt definitely feels good, but it doesn’t really take the pressure off,” Coffield said. “We’re always trying to stay on grind and continue attacking as the game goes on.”

Wroblewski added a goal off a rebound from a Hamlett shot in the 23rd minute giving Mars a 3-0 halftime lead. Hamlett scored her second of the game on an excellent individual effort with two minutes remaining.

Mars’ WPIAL season has been near perfect. The Planets have allowed only eight goals against district opponents and five against Class AAA opponents. In the playoffs, Mars (20-0-1) has outscored opponents 30-1.

“We’ve wanted it,” Coffield said. “We were due to get these results, and we’re happy that they are coming this way.”

West Allegheny (17-4) sustained some pressure in the second half but couldn’t find a way to get the ball in the net. The Indians had a pair of corners and several free kicks from striking distance, but the opportunities were either defended, saved by Mars keeper Courtney Linsman or struck wide.

“West Allegheny is a nice team,” Gerlach said. “They have a nice attack, and it was one of the first teams we played this year that had four or more girls that could be dangerous on the dribble. They connected passes well. They controlled bits and pieces of the game, but I felt like the matchup worked out that when we could find our first pass and counter that we were very dangerous. That certainly worked out in the first five minutes.”

For West Allegheny, the 2019 season was a breakthrough with several firsts. The Indians won a section title, advanced to the WPIAL semifinals and won a PIAA playoff game all for the first time in program history.

They return 10 of the 11 girls that started Saturday including leading scorers Mackenzie Taranto and Mackenzie Evers.

“Last year was the first time we’ve ever made playoffs,” West Allegheny coach Dave Tissue said. “You don’t want to finish like that, of course, but overall I’m thrilled with the season. It was unfortunate that we gave up that late goal, but I liked how we played in the second half. The good news is almost everyone is coming back.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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