Stout defense, intense effort leads Mars girls lacrosse to 1st WPIAL title

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 | 9:31 PM

The Mars girls lacrosse team scored seven minutes into its WPIAL Class 2A championship matchup with top-seeded Blackhawk and never looked back Wednesday at Robert Morris’ Joe Walton Stadium.

Between a standout performance from goalkeeper Alaina Metal and six goal scorers, the Fightin’ Planets dominated from the opening whistle and went on to win, 10-3, to earn the first WPIAL championship in program history.

“First year into it as a head coach and I could not have asked for a better season,” Mars coach Monica Ewansik said. “These girls worked so hard throughout the year, and they deserve nothing more than a WPIAL championship.”

Freshman Zoey Krock scored the first goal at the 17:35 mark of the first half, and Kellen Fletch scored almost 10 minutes later to put the Fightin’ Planets up by two. They never conceded the lead from there.

Blackhawk’s Ryleigh McKnight scored at the 6:50 mark, but junior Grace Wu tallied her only goal 14 seconds later to put Mars up 3-1.

McKenna Merrit and Mya Cote both added a goal apiece before halftime to take a 5-1 lead into the break.

“We knew that we needed to keep it up,” Merrit said. “We had the energy coming into this from the loss to Blackhawk earlier this year and we really wanted it. You could tell.”

When the teams met earlier this year, Blackhawk handed Mars one of its two losses, but the Fightin’ Planets learned a lot from that matchup April 14. Ewansik said that they committed way too many turnovers and also increased their intensity level heading into their WPIAL championship and it showed.

Even after taking a big halftime lead, the Fightin’ Planets never took their foot off the pedal in route to a win. Merritt scored her second goal less than a minute into the second half and scored her third nine minutes later after Bailey Nicely tallied a goal for Blackhawk.

Krock added her second goal nearly 11 seconds after Merritt.

“At Hampton, we were in the lead heading into the half and they came out and started to get up on us and we started to get a little nervous,” Ewansik said. “So today we really made sure that we played a whole 50 minutes for this game. They didn’t let up in the second half today, and I think that made the difference. They were able to take that lead and come out with the win.”

While the Mars offense was humming, their defense was just as strong. Metal made a few crucial saves early to keep the Fightin’ Planets in the game and the rest of the defense never let up after that.

“I haven’t really had to worry about them all year, and I think that has a lot to do with our team chemistry,” Ewansik said. “They get along, everyone knows how each other plays, and they pulled it together. They’ve been relied on this season.”

Junior Chloe Courinos scored Blackhawk’s final goal with 1:54 left in the second half.

Heading into the WPIAL championship game, the Cougars hadn’t lost a game all season, but Blackhawk coach Kevin White said the better team won.

“It wasn’t that they took us out of our game. We just had difficulty catching the ball and they caught it better than us, plain and simple,” White said. “They got up on us at the half, we made a little comeback, and they put it away.”

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

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