Ruling The Year

January 8, 2020 Cranberry Local Sports

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Mars girls soccer players celebrate their 4-0 win over Plum in the WPIAL 3A title game at Highmark Stadium in November. The Planets went on to win the state title. Their dominating run was voted as the Butler Eagle's sports story of 2019.

ADAMS TWP — The 2019 Mars girls soccer team will be remembered as much for its incredibly dominant play as what it produced for the Planets.

Mars (22-0-1) outscored its foes 131-10 while capturing the WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A titles. In eight playoff games, that disparity was even more pronounced with a 36-2 advantage.

The unrelenting effort was chosen as the Butler Eagle's sports story of 2019.

As much talent as Mars threw at opponents, the team's ability to remain focused while winning handily on the scoreboard proved just as valuable.

“Part of that is our players' personalities,” said Planets' coach Blair Gerlach. “They want to compete no matter what the score is. But we also had some really hungry players on the bench. If you're not going to perform, there are other players who would love the opportunity to show what they can do.

“So there wasn't just the competition with other teams, we also had competition within our own team. It was a healthy competition and never got nasty.”

Mars was rarely scored upon, but when a goal against did occur, the Planets had a quick response.

In the season-opener against Gateway, the Planets allowed a goal in the third minute, but scored the tying goal less than two minutes later in a 2-1 victory.

In the rematch with the Gators three weeks later, Gateway scored a goal late in the first half to tie the score at 1. Mars tallied two scores early in the second half to spark a 4-1 win.

“Our response was instant,” said Gerlach.

As the Planets celebrated their 1-0 state title win over Villa Joseph Marie Nov. 16 in Hershey, senior defender Grace Ingram credited the great relationship the seniors had formed with the underclassmen as a big reason for the team's success.

“We approached the freshmen during (summer) camp and just let them know that we were there for them, on and off the field,” she said. “They were really enthusiastic about joining the team and that helped. The whole vibe this year was team-oriented.”

“We had six seniors on the team,” Gerlach said of Olivia Williams, Kiara Khemani, Ashley Edwards, Anna Kurpakus, Taylor Hamlett and Ingram. “Some rarely came off the field and others saw very little playing time, but they all were very good leaders, had a role and were very aware of the value that role held. Some were responsible for setting up car pools. It was the most selfless group of seniors I've had.

“I could tell back in the summer that all of these kids really wanted to be there,” said Gerlach. “It just felt different.”

At the time, Gerlach made a statement that was meant as a joke, but proved prophetic.

“I told the girls that they needed to get in the weight room because those giant chocolate bars they give out to the state champion are pretty heavy.”

Both physical ability and intangibles gave the Planets a confidence they were not shy to speak about.

“The playoffs started and you look to see who is on your side of the bracket, who you might play if you advance. Our players were hoping for all of the top seeds to keep winning. They wanted to face the better teams.”

In the WPIAL playoffs, Mars dispatched section champions Belle Vernon and Plum, the latter by a 4-0 score in the championship game Nov. 2 at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh.

In the state tournament, District 10 champion Warren and District 1 champion Villa Joseph Marie were both taken down.

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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