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Mars, GCC teams lead WPIAL squads into PIAA tournament

| Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 7:56 p.m.
Mars' Kelsey Bruce sets up to spike past Burrell's Emma Brown during the volleyball game at Burrell High School on Tuesday October 16, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Mars' Karli Paracca heads the ball against Burrell Monday September 10, 2012 in Adams. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Ronald Vezzani Jr.| Greensburg Central Catholics Colby Crouse (3) attempts to pass the ball against Sewickley Academy's Melina George (21) during playoff action at Baldwin High School on Saturday, November 3, 2012

Of all the talented teams the WPIAL Class AA champion Mars girls soccer team competed against this season, few put up as much of a challenge as ... the Mars boys soccer team?

WPIAL boys soccer finalist Greensburg Central Catholic endured one of Class A's toughest schedules during the regular season. But who knew their toughest competition would come from ... the Centurions' girls soccer team?

Don't get the wrong idea — the Planets' boys and girls teams root for each other, and so do GCC's boys and girls soccer teams.

“They respect each other,” Mars girls coach Blair Gerlach said of the boys and girls soccer teams. “It's just a fun little competition.”

But the success throughout the athletic programs at both schools is no coincidence. At both Mars (Class AA) and Greensburg Central Catholic (Class A), the boys soccer, girls soccer and girls volleyball teams all played in WPIAL championship games Saturday. At each school, the girls soccer and volleyball teams came away with WPIAL titles while the boys soccer team settled for being runner-up.

“That's absolutely phenomenal, and it definitely speaks to the culture of the school and the quality of the kids that go to GCC,” Centurions girls soccer coach Ashley Shasko said. “It's a driven group on and off the field, and they're successful in the classroom and successful in sports. It's a motivated collection of kids, and it's a great thing for the girls to be a part of.”

GCC boys soccer coach Tom Sochacki said the school's athletic department researched last week and determined that wins by all three Centurions teams Saturday would have marked the first time three teams from the same school won WPIAL championships on the same day — Mars, of course, had a chance to do the same thing.

“That speaks tremendously to the athletic program and to the kids we have,” Sochacki said. “It's not just us or just the girls, it's us two, the volleyball team, the football team, boys cross country, too. There's just one quality team after another. It's just a great place to be — a great place to play, and a great place to coach.

“It's not a competition, but everybody likes to keep up with everybody else. Obviously, the girls have kind of set the standard with winning back to back.”

The girls soccer program also has set the standard at Mars, where the Planets won their third consecutive WPIAL championship with a 2-1 shootout victory over Moon on Saturday.

Mars is also the defending PIAA champion. Regardless of whether they won or lost a WPIAL title game Saturday, all six of the Planets' and Centurions teams that participated for a championship qualified for the PIAA playoffs.

Be it the euphoric high from winning the district title or the dejection from getting so far and coming up just short, each team had only about 48 hours to put it behind them and focus on the PIAA playoffs. The PIAA tournaments for soccer and volleyball begin Tuesday night.

“We try to keep things as close as possible (to the regular-season routine),” Gerlach said. “This is a good group of kids, and we've been fortunate to be in this situation the past couple years. ... We don't take it for granted.”

Generally speaking, a common theme among all these successful programs at these two athletically prominent schools is they recognize when it's time to focus and work as hard as possible — and also when it's time to stay loose and trust in the fact that all that work and preparation will pay dividends.

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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