STATE CHAMPS, TIMES 3

Mars girls soccer snares 3rd straight PIAA 3A crown

November 22, 2021 Cranberry Local Sports


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The Mars girls soccer team celebrates its third consecutive PIAA Class 3A championship after defeating Radnor 2-1 in double-overtime Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey

HERSHEY — One hundred minutes of soccer had decided nothing in Saturday's PIAA Class 3A girls championship game.

Mars and Radnor were locked in a 1-1 stalemate, but the Raptors controlled the field in the waning moments of the first overtime at Hersheypark Stadium.

Mars appeared fatigued and seemed to be struggling to hang on.

In fact, the Planets still had what they needed most — one more goal in their season.

When the second overtime began, Mars looked refreshed and kept play in Radnor's end until the 108th minute when senior Aly Cooper scored a goal she'll never forget.

From left, Gwen Howell, Piper Coffield, Leana Cuzzocrea and Aly Cooper show off the championship hardware after the Mars girls soccer team won its third consecutive PIAA Class 3A championship, defeating Radnor 2-1 in double-overtime Saturday at Hersheypark Stasdium.

Playing the ball just to the left of Radnor's net, she booted a shot past Raptors' goalkeeper Mallory Toomey.

“At first, I thought, 'Did that just happen?' I was speechless,” Cooper said.

It had indeed happened. Cooper's goal capped a 2-1 victory for the Planets, who won their third straight state title and fourth in program history.

Prior to the deciding score, the Raptors (20-5) were unable to clear the ball. Cooper took possession and put a move on Radnor defender Tellian Schwarz, who fell to the turf, and the former headed toward the goal.

Toomey came out to challenge and the goalkeeper began to slide in an attempt to make a play on the ball, but before she could, Cooper's shot was headed into the net.

It was her team-leading 16th goal of the season.

Mars' Reese Dunaway uses a header to score the first goal for the Planets in their state title win. Dave Woten/Special to the Eagle

“Big players step up in big games,” said Mars coach Blair Gerlach. “(Radnor's Selah Koleth) scored a great goal in the first half. It was a tremendous effort and Aly's goal matched that. It was that good.”

Cooper was a key contributor to Mars' back-to-back titles the last two years. She said the team had a united resolve as the second overtime began.

“We were going to do whatever it took to get that goal,” she said. “I wanted to share that feeling of winning a state title again with my teammates.”

Koleth's goal, scored following an entry pass from teammate Ivy Chaskelson in the sixth minute of play, was just the fourth goal allowed by the Planets this season. It put Mars down for the first time in four appearances in the state title game.

“That was a bit of a shock,” Cooper said. “But I knew we have a strong team and we could come back from it.”

The tying goal came in the 55th minute thanks to Reese Dunaway's header. Twelve minutes later, Mars came very close to taking the lead.

Brynn Ramsey crossed the ball into a crowd in front of Toomey, who made a diving save on a header from Addison Girdwood. The ball found its way to Jenna Caringola, whose solid shot smacked off the face of Radnor's Emily Daiutolo just yards from the net.

Mars defender Brooke Hamlett blocked a close-range shot inside the right post late in the first overtime.

“We talked before the game, breaking down how to play against Mars' defense,” said Radnor coach Jake Solderitsch. “Scoring first was big for us, but we didn't want to sit on it. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get another.”

Toomey made four saves for the Raptors, who were denied their first state crown since winning in 1999.

Sharing the victory in net for the Planets (20-0-1) were goalkeepers Megan Boddy, who played the first half, and Kate McEnroe, who played the rest of the contest.

Both teams dealt with injuries. Mars lost midfielder Ava Lewis and defender Eva Ranalli in the first half.

Leg cramps also played havoc with several players.

“I think a lot of it was the playing surface, the turf was slippery,” said Gerlach. “And toward the end of the game, I think it was just fatigue.”

The victory continued an incredible run for Mars. Since falling to Blue Mountain in the 2018 state playoffs, the Planets have not lost, compiling a record of 61-0-2.

“It involves a lot of dedication from the parents and players,” Gerlach said. “It's about having a laser-driven focus to wanting to continue (the high level of) play no matter who graduates.”

Graduation losses last spring had many people questioning the Planets' chances this fall, despite being two-time defending state champions.

Hamlett was one of a number of players who moved into prominent roles this season.

“Helping the team get back here and win, it meant so much to me. I love my teammates,” she said. “I never doubted our chances. I just knew we would do it.”

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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