PITTSBURGH — Ability to handle pressure is something any potential player for the Mars girls soccer team needs somewhere on her resume.
Planets' junior midfielder Piper Coffield believes their collective skill-set helped them collect their third straight WPIAL Class 3A title by beating Plum 2-1 Saturday at Highmark Stadium.
“I think there is definitely some pressure,” Coffield said. “We have a reputation of winning. We're super-excited to come down here and make the most of our opportunities.”
Mars (16-0-1) hasn't missed many opportunities. The Planets are on a 59-game unbeaten streak, have won the past three WPIAL finals, all against Plum, and have collected eight district titles in program history.
The idea the two-time defending PIAA champions were rebuilding this year was something Mars coach Blair Gerlach said had the current group of players hungry before the season even started.
Rebuilding is for construction workers, not for the Planets.
“They came into this preseason already annoyed at the articles and the things being said about this team,” Gerlach said. “It will never be the way the last few years were, it was a rebuilding year and it would be hard not to think that with the players who graduated.
“Those players who graduated left a mindset and an attitude that it's about hard work, getting your job done and if you do the right things you'll be rewarded at the end of the day. Today, we got rewarded at the end of the day.”
Coffield netted her reward in the sixth minute. She leapt up and headed in a cross from Gwen Howell to put Mars ahead 1-0.
“I saw her ready to make a service in and tried to put a head on it,” Coffield said. “It ended up in the goal. It was great.”
Mars limited Plum (19-2-1) to few scoring opportunities in the first half. The Mustangs had a hard time getting around the Planets' defense.
Mars extended its lead to 2-0 when Ainsley Ray scored in the 49th minute.
“They are really good formationally and disciplined in the back,” Plum coach Jamie Stewart said. “I knew once they got that second goal, I knew what they were going to do, which was sit back.”
Gerlach said he didn't feel having played Plum in the past two WPIAL finals dictated anything about Mars' strategy this time.
“I think both teams are very different than they were last year,” Gerlach said. “We always had the mind-set in the past that we will take on all challengers. This group has the same mind-set, but they are a little more tentative at times. Maybe not the same level of confidence, but this will help.”
Kaitlyn Killinger gave Plum life by scoring in the 66th minute by cleaning up a rebound in front of the Mars net. The Planets had to dig in and prevent Plum's pressure from equalizing the game.
But Mars never folded.Those situations are too ingrained in the program's DNA.
“We love coming down here,” Coffield said. “We were excited to play all year. We've been getting ready for this.”
Avonworth 2, North Catholic 1 (2OT)
Avonworth freshman Fiona Mahan introduced herself to the big stage of the WPIAL Class 2A girls soccer championship in grand fashion.
Mahan hit a shot from 30 yards out to propel the Antelopes to a 2-1 double-overtime victory that allowed them to upset top-seeded and section rival North Catholic.
The Trojanettes (17-2) will play District 9 champion Karns City in the first round of the PIAA playoffs at 6 p.m.Tuesday at Karns City.
North Catholic coach Brittni Grenninger, who is a Karns City graduate, was proud of how the Trojanettes rallied after falling behind in the first half.
“It was a fun championship game,” Grenninger said. “I thought we dominated the overtime and we had more opportunities. It felt like we had momentum there and they had a player make a phenomenal shot. That's how it goes sometimes.”
Mia Burens opened the scoring for the Antelopes (16-3-1). She got on the end of a cross and guided it into the net in the 22nd minute.
Avonworth continued to dominate possession throughout most of the first half. Antelopes' coach JC Mahan thought they possessed the ball well.
“I think they have a good midfield trio they have in there, but they were allowing us to have space,” Mahan said. “We talked about it at halftime. Our midfield can possess against anybody, but if you give us space we can exploit it even more.”
Jayden Sharpless nearly tied the game five minutes later. There was a scramble in the box, but Avonworth keeper Maggie Pappas was able to dive on the ball.
Lauren McDonald did tie the game in the 25th minute. She took a pass 40 yards away from goal and was able to get in on net and slot home a shot.
Grenninger said North Catholic didn't alter its strategy at all after the teams split a pair of regular season games.