PITTSBURGH — Every one on the Mars girls soccer team knows how difficult communication can be during the WPIAL Class AAA championship games at Highmark Stadium.
Competing against opponents is only part of the equation. Being in the heart of the city also means trains and boats come by and blow whistles.
That's why Planets' coach Blair Gerlach made an adjustment. In the practices leading up to Mars' 4-0 win over Plum Saturday afternoon, Gerlach was quiet and only coached the team during stoppages.
“We've been talking all week about how it's difficult to play here,” Gerlach said. “Aside from the emotional side of things, you have a train, or a boat or the wind and nobody can hear anybody ... I only coached at stoppages so they can make decisions on their own. They are more than capable of doing that. That's not my style and I think I had as much adjusting to do as they did because it's a difficult place to play.”
The Planets, who were playing at Highmark for the fifth time in six seasons, jumped on the Mustangs early and rolled to their first WPIAL crown since 2015. Mars, which had lost in the finals the past two seasons, is now 6-3 all-time in district finals and 2-3 at the home of the Riverhounds.
Losing the past two seasons had senior forward Taylor Hamlett determined to press early. Whatever practice tactic it took was fine by her.
“We all have been practicing so much for this,” Hamlett said. “It helped with us working on stuff with him not talking because with the train and everything it is hard to hear. We know what to do by this point.”
Hamlett got in on goal early, hitting a shot from just inside the box that bounced off the glove of Plum keeper Erica Taylor before trickling into the box. She would score again in a similar spot nine minutes later.
“The emphasis in this game was to try and make sure we imposed ourselves a little bit early,” Gerlach said.
Plum coach James Stewart wanted the Mustangs to use the early part of the game to find their legs. Plum, which had never played in the final before, never did find a way to break through Mars' defense.
“What I'll say is they are very, very quick and did a good job of slicing through our defense,” Stewart said. “We were trying to play a little more defensive in the first 10 or 20 minutes to get a feel for the game and see how they are.”
Ellie Coffield put Mars ahead 3-0 in the 32nd minute. Gracie Dunaway closed the scoring by adding another on for Mars with three minutes remaining.
After two straight disappointments, Mars was able to shut out the noise and climb back on top of the WPIAL mountain.
“Being here the last two years, we knew what to expect and we knew what we needed to do to get the result,” Hamlett said.
Mars was scheduled to face District 10 champion Warren in the first round of the PIAA playoffs Tuesday.