Mars tops Plum for WPIAL Class 3A girls soccer championship

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Saturday, November 6, 2021 | 8:33 PM


For the third consecutive season, the two teams in the WPIAL Class 3A final were Mars and Plum, and for the third time it was the Planets claiming the district crown with a 2-1 victory Saturday at Highmark Stadium.

In doing so, Mars (16-0-1) became the first school to three-peat twice, doing so previously from 2010-12. Sewickley Academy and South Park are the other two schools who achieved a single three-peat.

The achievements of the Planets program over the course of the last decade plus cannot be denied. It makes coach Blair Gerlach feel a lot of different ways.

“First of all, it makes me feel really old,” he said. “Three times in a row gets me to remember how lucky I am to have a group of kids and a community that believes so much. We have a very supportive school district. They just kind of say, ‘Hey let’s roll with this program.’ ”

For the players, it was the justification of all their hard work building up to this point. Mars was thought to be in a rebuilding year by most after losing nine players to graduation.

“This group came into the preseason with a chip on their shoulders,” Gerlach said. “They were annoyed by the articles and the things that were being said about this team. Those players that graduated left a mindset and attitude that it’s about hard work and getting your jobs done.”

The Mustangs (19-2-1) gave a noble effort and did not back down from the challenge.

“We didn’t give up. That was the message at halftime: We were still in the game,” Plum coach Jamie Stewart said. “Unfortunately, they got that second goal and that makes it harder. Scoring three on them is hard. They’ve only given up two goals all year (coming into the game).”

Mars got on the board very early. The Planets’ Ainsley Ray sent a shot into the box, and it was redirected into the back of the net on a header by Piper Coffield in the sixth minute. There was absolutely nothing Mustang keeper Megan Marston could do, and it was 1-0 Mars.

The Planets nearly extended the lead to two, but Marston made a diving stop in the 11th minute. Mars keeper Megan Boddy also made a key stop just four minutes later on Kaitlyn Killinger. However, quality scoring chances were few and far between for the Mustangs in the first half.

“(Mars) is really, really good formationally and very disciplined in the back,” Stewart said. “We just did not come out with as much aggression as we wanted to. The first half was not our best half. I thought we played better in the second half.”

Plum started the second half much better. It worked the ball into the Mars defensive zone but was unable to get off a shot.

The Planets countered with some pressure of their own. Leanna Cuzzocrea took a shot off of a Mars corner kick that was stopped by Marston. But the rebound rested right in front of the goal, and Ray fired it home to give the Planets a 2-0 advantage in the 49th minute.

“The second goal was certainly a big goal, but it’s a double-edged sword,” Gerlach said. “You score that second goal, you relax a little bit. Then look at what happens.”

Plum kicked it up a notch after the second goal. A great run through the midfield by Camryn Rogers led to her taking a shot from just outside the box. Boddy made a tough save, but the rebound was left for Killinger, who buried it and pulled the Mustangs back with a goal.

“It certainly kept us on our toes, but we need to make sure we play a full 80 minutes and not have those ebbs and flows,” Gerlach said.

The Mustangs had a couple more opportunities in the waning minutes but could not get a quality shot.

“If you take away the two goals Mars scored, they really didn’t have many opportunities,” Stewart said. “We have to get better on set pieces, but we didn’t give up. We had opportunities in the last ten minutes of the game, and that’s a good thing.”

Both teams advance to the PIAA playoffs beginning Tuesday. Mars will play Red Land, the fourth qualifier out of District 3, and Plum has District 6 Champion Hollidaysburg.

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