Seniors power Planets

November 20, 2019 Cranberry Local Sports


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HERSHEY — Senior players acting with class is not something every high school sports team can count on.

The Mars girls soccer team went the distance this season, winning the Class 3A state championship on Saturday, and the way the seniors carried themselves throughout the year paved the way to success.

“We have six seniors and they were 100 percent leaders,” said Planets' coach Blair Gerlach. “The playing time varied for all of them and they each had a different role. They embraced that.

“They knew when to keep things light for the rest of the team and when to crack down.”

An early gesture by the seniors helped foster a team atmosphere.

“We approached the freshmen during (summer) camp and just let them know that we were there for them, on and off the field,” said defender Grace Ingram, one of the team's seniors along with Olivia Williams, Kiara Khemani, Ashley Edwards, Anna Kurpakus and Taylor Hamlett. “They were really enthusiastic about joining the team and that helped.

“The whole vibe this year was team-oriented. It was a selfless group.”

Freshman defender Gwen Howell appreciates the example set by the seniors.

“They were so supportive of us underclassmen,” she said. “To be part of a state championship, it's incredible. I love all of these girls.”

The Planets had been defeated in the WPIAL championship game the last two years. They turned that disappointment around with a dominating 4-0 win over Plum to win the district crown earlier this month.

“We were motivated to get back and win,” said Kurpakus, a midfielder. “Once we won there, I think we all thought about getting here and winning it all.”

Until Saturday's 1-0 win over Villa Joseph Marie, the Planets had gotten the better of their seven playoff opponents by a combined score of 35-2. But they were able to stay grounded.

“We focused on our play and not who we were playing,” said Kurpakus. “That mentality came from within us and from our coaches.”

Mars' girls soccer program is incredibly consistent, winning five WPIAL titles in the last 10 seasons. But this year's players join the 2011 team as the two squads to win a PIAA title.

“We worked so hard for it,” said Ingram. “We wanted to make this a year to remember.”

Mission accomplished.

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Derek Pyda

Derek Pyda

- Graduated from Connellsville High School in 1996
- Graduated from Clarion University in 2000 with a Bachelors in Communications
- Have also written for Clarion News (Clarion, PA) and the Herald-Standard (Uniontown, PA)
- Started at the Butler Eagle on April 2, 2002
- Interests include sports, history and geography