Top-ranked Mars girls soccer looks to reach next level of success

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 | 4:42 PM

The Mars girls soccer team is off to a hot start this season, winning its first four games and outscoring opponents 25-0.

If you ask coach Blair Gerlach, he’ll tell you the Planets are yet to play their best game and the results, believe it or not, could actually have been more dominant.

“We’ve done well, but I don’t think we’ve gotten to our potential yet,” he said. “Hopefully, we can clean up a couple things and continue to move forward.

“What’s exciting for me is that everyone is eager to learn new things and try different formations and nobody is so fixated on playing one way that they can’t adapt to the style we want to play.”

That next level is something Gerlach is confident the Class 3A No. 1 Planets will find sooner rather than later. A healthy roster of 30-plus players who have potential to play and contribute on any given night has provided the luxury of training sessions and practices that at times are more competitive than games.

“We’re very fortunate that we’ve got a lot of strong players in our group that don’t start, but they play their hardest during practice,” Gerlach said. “It’s nice to be able to try to play in different formations and play with a different system at practice and know we’ll be competitive either way.

“We’ll play direct, and we’ll play possession. … It gives us the opportunity to play quality matchups, and that’s a testament to our depth and to how these girls work in the offseason.”

What isn’t lacking early on is the offensive firepower. Junior Taylor Hamlett leads the team with eight goals, ahead of sophomores Ellie Coffield (7 goals) and Caroline Wroblewski (5 goals). There are a number of players who have chipped with with three goals, as well.

Gerlach said the team’s versatility and ability for any girl to step up on a given night makes this Planets’ team nearly impossible to prepare for.

“In training, we prepare by trying to think about how another team will try to play against us, whether that’s them sitting back with a bunch of defenders and then a team with a high line,” he said. “Having different players who can score, you don’t have to play to players in certain situations and positions. We can rely on different people that they’ll be able to execute.”

With all the success happening in the offensive zone, the defense may get over looked.

The Planets, however, have three returning starters on defense in senior center back Kaitlyn Pietrusinski and sophomore outside backs Gracie Dunaway and Erin Rodgers. Factor in the talent of senior goalkeeper Claire Valentine — who did not concede a goal in section play last year and is on a similar pace this season — Mars’ defense is just as potent as its offense.

“Our back group understands how to play together,” Gerlach said. “They’re a confident group because they can keep possession of the ball, play direct, or be physical if the game dictates it. There’s a lot of versatility back there.”

Despite the unbeaten start, Gerlach is still hoping to learn from the nuances of each game and play at a high level and finish near the top of the section.

The Planets play Kiski Area, Indiana and Hampton in the coming weeks. Gerlach expects the next seven days to be the benchmark of how the team has progressed.

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.


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