Mars out to make history again in PIAA boys lacrosse finals

Thursday, June 10, 2021 | 8:51 PM

For more than a decade, the only way a WPIAL team could reach the PIAA lacrosse championships was with a ticket.

The Mars boys this season decided to invite themselves.

The undefeated Fightin’ Planets will play District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic (20-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at West Chester East High School in the PIAA Class AA boys lacrosse championship.

“It’s amazing,” senior defender and captain Ben Chizmar said. “We’re able to show that we need to be looked at seriously now.”

Mars (22-0), which defeated two-time defending PIAA Class AA champion Bishop Shanahan, 10-3, on Tuesday in the semifinals, has snapped a WPIAL lacrosse drought dating to the formation of the state playoffs in 2009.

The Fightin’ Planets are the first WPIAL lacrosse team — boys or girls — to reach the PIAA finals. Prior to this year, the WPIAL was a combined 0-12 in the state semifinal games, including losses by Mars in 2017 and ‘18.

“It’s the holy grail that all of us have been searching for,” Mars fifth-year coach Bob Marcoux said. “We’ve all been striving for this. A lot of teams have come close. This is really exciting for everybody that we finally pushed over that last hurdle of getting to the finals. Now we’ve just got to close the deal on Saturday.”

Mars isn’t the only team that broke through Eastern Pennsylvania’s state-final monopoly. Allentown Central Catholic is the first team from District 11 to play for lacrosse gold.

Utah-bound senior midfielder Tyler Schifko (71 goals), senior attacker Jack McGorry, a St. Joseph’s recruit with 91 goals this season, and Syracuse-bound junior defender Charles Kuczynski lead coach Dan Dolphin’s Vikings.

“They are kind of similar to us,” Marcoux said. “They have a smaller community program. Their players have all played together since they were 6 or 7 years old. They are skilled at every position. They are very deep. They’ve got a couple of Division I commits, just like we do. They’ve got talent all over the field, and they are very well coached. We know it’s going to be a very difficult challenge to overcome.”

Mars hasn’t faced many obstables this season. The Fightin’ Planets routed Chartiers Valley, 18-4, on May 27 for its fifth consecutive WPIAL Class AA title. They have outscored their opponents 397-73 and are ranked No. 1 among Class AA teams (and No. 5 overall) in Pennsylvania, according to MaxPreps.

Junior midfielder Austin Cote, who scored five goals in the PIAA semifinal victory, is committed to Loyola (Md.). Junior defender Quinn Fuller (Jacksonville), senior long-stick midfielder Jake Wooldridge (Detroit Mercy) and junior attack Josh Seipp (Bellarmine) also are headed to D-I programs.

Junior attack Wesley Scurci, the WPIAL Class AA boys lacrosse player of the year, has 86 goals this season, including six in the WPIAL finals, and senior goalie Jacob Gareis is looking for another state title after starting in net for Mars’ undefeated PIAA boys soccer champ in the fall.

Marcoux said reaching the state finals reflects the widespread growth of the sport in Mars and across Western Pennsylvania.

“When I grew up, lacrosse was mostly upstate New York, Long Island, Maryland, Philadelphia and a few other East Coast places,” he said. “The sport has exploded over the past 10 years into a lot of geographies that lacrosse really hadn’t been existent at all, which is fantastic.”

The WPIAL community is backing Mars during its historic quest. Marcoux said he has received supportive texts from fellow district lacrosse coaches.

“They have been very encouraging,” he said. “The tone of the message is, ‘Hey, great for Western Pa. lacrosse. Good luck. Represent us and finish the job.’ They are all very, very pleased.”

While teams in the Philadelphia area have dominated PIAA lacrosse, Mars didn’t even sponsor a program until 2013.

Vince Grieco, who played lacrosse at Saint Vincent, started a youth lacrosse program in 2009 to kickstart the sport in the Butler County town. Marcoux estimated only a handful of people from Mars “had ever even seen a lacrosse match” prior to the youth program’s formation.

Pretty soon, some of the top young athletes in the school district were signing up, thanks to an inclusive, parent-friendly approach. Marcoux, who played at Carnegie Mellon in the mid-1980s, was away from the sport for about 15 years before joining the youth program about a decade ago and later the high school team.

“The youth program is the genesis for all of this,” Marcoux said. “(Grieco) did a fantastic job of getting the whole community involved. … We wouldn’t be anywhere as a high school program without all of the support of the community and without all of the great athletes and lacrosse players that the youth program has provided us.”

Chizmar, the son of ex-Penn State linebacker Brian Chizmar, is one of those former youth players. He and his senior teammates have played together since they were fifth- and sixth-graders. They were freshmen when the 2018 team suffered a heartbreaking 12-11 overtime loss to Strath Haven in the PIAA Class AA semifinals.

“When we lost in the semis in 2018, we always said that wasn’t going to be us,” Chizmar said. “And now we are here.”

Out of this world

Mars is the first WPIAL lacrosse team — boys or girls — to reach the PIAA finals

Finals appearances (through 2019)

District 1 (suburban Philly): 39

District 12 (Philly): 11

District 3 (Harrisburg): 6


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