Experience, deep roster have Mars optimistic of playoff run
On the heels of consecutive 18-win seasons and without a player graduating from the school's first boys basketball PIAA tournament team, Mars carries something this season it has at few times in program history: championship expectations.
The Planets began the season ranked, and they did little to temper people's opinions with victories in seven of their first eight games.
To hear Mars coach Rob Carmody tell it, however, no one is expecting more from the Planets than Planets themselves.
“It's nice when the expectations for success are from the kids,” Carmody said. “It's not from the coaching staff, not from other students in the school and not even from the newspapers. The kids have high expectations for themselves. But best of all, they know the only way to meet them is to continue to work hard.”
Mars' only defeats through nine games were at Hampton and against Holmes, Ky., at the Rock Holiday Classic tournament in Orlando, Fla. Those teams are a combined 24-0, with Hampton considered one of WPIAL Class AAAA's best and Holmes a Kentucky powerhouse.
On the Planets' resume are victories against reigning PIAA finalist Montour (7-0 in all other games), Class AAAA's Seneca Valley (6-1 against everyone else) and Windermere Prep, Fla., and North Laurel, Ky.
“I'm obviously very pleased with how we've played after we really tried to play a challenging schedule prior to the meat of the section schedule,” Carmody said. “So far it's paid off.”
More than Carmody could have expected. The Planets played large portions of the first month without two of their top players. The wins, mostly, kept coming. More importantly, depth was cultivated when players deeper in the rotation were thrust into more prominent roles.
“It's nice to get guys minutes,” Carmody said. “You see how they respond, and you know how they'll help you down the road.”
Mars is deep enough that it boasts five players who are averaging double-digits in points: seniors Garrett Ashbaugh, Zach May, Matt Getsy, Mitchell Buzard and Josh Goetz. That doesn't include junior guard Owen Nearhoof, the team's leading scorer last season who hasn't played a full game yet this season because of injury. Injury has likewise limited senior guard Alex Locher.
“Everyone's been contributing,” said Ashbaugh, in his third season as Mars' point guard. “We don't have to worry that if this person or that person's not scoring we can't win. We have the depth, so we can score regardless. On any given night, anybody can score 20 points.”
Experience helps. Buzard joins Ashbaugh as three-year starters. Getsy is a two-year starter, and May and Goetz also had logged plenty of career minutes heading into this season.
The emergence of the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Goetz has given another dimension to a Planets' team that primarily has relied on guard play.
“We really haven't had a big kid like him (since 2000),” Carmody said. “He's just such a physical presence, and he runs the floor.”
Senior guard Ben Erdahl, senior forward Adam Bayuk and junior guard Ethan Lewis add even more depth.
“We're one of the closest basketball teams that I've ever seen,” Ashbaugh said. “On the court and off the court. That's going to help us down the road.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.
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