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Mars was as advertised

Fighting Planets top Warren, 8-0, in PIAA quarterfinals

Times Observer Photo by Jay Young Warren's Audrey Smith, right, pressures Caroline Wroblewski of Mars during Saturday's PIAA Class 3A quarterfinal in Mars.

MARS – For the second consecutive year the District 7 champion Mars Fighting Planets defeated Warren in Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Conference Class 3A girls soccer quarterfinal play on Saturday.

The No. 1 ranked team in the country, according to the United Soccer Coaches, posted five first-half goals on the way to an 8-0 win over the Dragons, who end their incredible season at 18-1.

In 2019 Mars was a 6-1 winner over Warren before going on to claim the PIAA Class 3A title. From the first touch on the ball on Saturday, it was clear that the Planets were ready to live up to the considerable hype.

“The talent was immense,” Warren head coach Jeremy Bickling said. “We knew they were going to be good and they were a fantastic team. They capitalized on all of the opportunities that they had and created many more than what we could probably handle on any given day.”

In the first series of the day, striker Caroline Wroblewski would find some open space on the left side, where she hit a screaming shot just over the crossbar and out of play. That early try was a sign of things to come.

Times Observer Photo by Jay Young Warren's Paige Johnson chases down a loose ball.

Peppering goaltender Alyssa Andersen early, Mars got on the board in the 10th minute when University of Pittsburgh commit Ellie Coffield sent a corner kick into the box. Despite that shot being cleared away, Coffield picked up the loose ball and curled back around, ripping a shot into the right side past Andersen for a 1-0 lead.

Seven minutes later, Piper Coffield took a walk to the corner and hit a crossing ball home to Gracie Dunaway that was finished off with a body in the 6-yard box. If the Planets were not either shooting or setting up their offense, chances are they were taking a corner kick.

“I knew that if you gave them that many corners they are going to find the athletes to put the ball into the goal,” bilking said. “I wasn’t happy with the fact we were giving up that many opportunities, but we do have to defend the goal first and if it yields a corner, it is not something that I like, but at the same time the girls are doing their first initiative in protecting the goal.”

Crucially missing from Saturday’s game was Warren’s Ella Ordiway, who was ruled out with a concussion. In light of that vacancy, and due to Mars’ offensive firepower, bilking opted to shift forwards Kyleigh Wilson and Kyra Wotorson back to midfield for support.

“Ella actually couldn’t go. We found out that she did have a concussion from the injury in the previous games,” Bickling said. “So for her safety and health we weren’t able to put her on the field. Without her, we wouldn’t have been in this spot, so we thank her for muscling through.”

He added: “We made the change based off of that. We wanted to put them back to at least slow (Mars) down a bit. It kind of left us a little anemic up top when we did have opportunities, but we had to stop Mars first before we could attack.”

Victory over the Planets will be difficult for any team, even on a perfect day, let alone one without a key player like Ordiway. Midway through the opening period Piper Coffield fed a pass to Wroblewski, who set up Ava Lewis for a finish in close.

Mars grabbed a four-goal lead three minutes later when Ellie Coffield ripped home a volley. With 1:50 remaining in the opening half, Erin Rodgers would redirect home a corner kick by Courtney Lisman to make it 5-0.

In their best chances of the opening 40 minutes, the Dragons would see Georgie bilking take a free kick that was blown dead on the rush due to an offsides call, while Wilson was able to muster a shot in the 16th minute that missed the mark left.

“There was a moment when I realized we could have played with them far better than we did,” Bickling said. “I don’t think we played our best game and I think the girls, with nerves and pressure and what they might have thought this team could do, they gave up an opportunity to play with them earlier in the game. I felt early on it was balanced, and we started giving them opportunities and that momentum built for them. By that time, when you are up by four goals, all of a sudden heads start dropping. Things like that. I felt we were at a closer level to them, at least initially, than where we were last year. So I’m happy with that.”

Second-half tallies for Mars would come from Aly Cooper, Lewis and Julie Gagnon.

Georgie Bickling would get another good look on offense in the 14th minute, picking up a steal 30 yards out from the net where she was pushed off the ball by Ellie Howell before getting a shot away.

While the memory of Saturday’s loss will take some time to heal, there is no doubt that Warren’s players and coaches will remember 2020 for the unprecedented campaign of success that it was. Claiming its second District 10 title in as many years, the team set a program record in goals on the way to returning to the PIAA quarters.

“Today’s game didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but we were that close and we’ll continue to get closer. We were two games away from playing in the state championship, so I can’t take away from them,” Bickling said.

While seniors Wotorson, Wilson, Paige Johnson and Kaelah Knupp will be lost to graduation, the Dragons will return a strong core that includes Andersen, Georgie bilking, Ordiway, Sydney Rex, Marielle Stanz and Alyssa Fuchs.

“We’ll rebuild what we are losing. It is hard to replace players like Kyleigh and Paige and Kyra, but at the same time we’ve got a good system and a good program, so we’ll be able to be back at this level,” Bickling said. “Just look at what we have remaining. Players like Georgie and Ella that are going to be our stars that are leading the team down the road. We’ve got a young group of players coming up. Our forwards today were all a substitution in Sydney Rex and three freshmen.”

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