HERSHEY — Mars had already turned in a memorable season in girls soccer, with a second-straight WPIAL title and a recent No. 1 national ranking in the United Soccer Coaches Poll.
But as defending state champions, the Planets had some unfinished business to take care of at Hersheypark Stadium Friday evening.
Gracie Dunaway and Samantha King scored in the first and second half, respectively, as Mars won another PIAA title with a 2-0 victory over Villa Joseph Marie.
“Villa is a solid team, but there was no option of losing here,” said Dunaway. “This was our second straight trip to the final. We had to take advantage of that.”
Dunaway's early effort didn't hurt in that respect. She took a perfect pass from Londynn Gonzalez that led her just beyond a Jems' defender to the right of the net, leaving her alone with goalkeeper Morgan Murphy just 12 yards from the goal.
Dunaway put a move on the junior and scored what amounted to an empty-net goal in the fourth minute.
“Scoring early is the plan of every coach, but this group keeps doing it,” said Mars coach Blair Gerlach. “In the first 10 minutes of games, they've found a way to score and that certainly helps.”
Dunaway had a chance for a second score in the 14th minute, but this time, Murphy won the one-on-one battle.
A Planet header following a free kick from Ellie Howell was stopped by Murphy in the 16th minute.
The Jems (12-1) saw their best scoring opportunities come in the first half, during which they had four shots on goal, all from at least 25 yards. Mars goalkeeper Courtney Lisman made the save in each instance. Most notably, she leapt and deflected a shot from Villa's Shea Riley over the crossbar with just one second remaining in the first half.
“I just wanted to get a hand on it,” said Lisman. “The defense in front of me, they're all great players and they make my job easier.”
The Planets' starting four in the back — Piper Coffield, Gwen and Ellie Howell and Erin Rogers —helped to keep much pressure from reaching Lisman in the second half.
King's insurance goal came in the 53rd minute. Senior midfielder Ellie Coffield took a free kick 30 yards to the left of Villa's goal. The ball came down in a crowd in front of Murphy, was headed by Ava Lewis and deflected off King's shoulder and into the net.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” said King, a senior. “To go out like this, 100 percent, there's no better way!”
Gerlach said he was not comfortable until the clock ran out.
“Getting that second goal is nice,” he said. “You just hope nobody relaxes. Villa can score three goals in five minutes.”
Lisman finished with four saves and Murphy had nine saves.
Jems' coach Rich Finneyfrock was unavailable for comment.
Mars (19-0) now has three state titles in girls soccer, each one earned by defeating the Jems, previously in 2011 and last year.
Friday's win caps an incredible two-season run for the Planets. Since the beginning of the 2019 campaign, they compiled a 41-0-1 record.
“Our senior leadership will certainly be missed, with the way they took the younger players under their wing,” said Gerlach. “This couldn't have happened to a better group.”
Dunaway is another of the Planets' nine seniors.
“It hasn't sunk in yet, what we just did,” she said. “I was just super-excited to be out there with my friends.”