Mars responds to busy girls basketball schedule

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 7:15 p.m.

The Mars girls basketball team had to learn on the fly to start the season.

With five games in the opening week, the Planets did not have much time to go over their experiences in practice. They just had to learn and adapt in game situations.

Mars came out of that stretch with a 2-3 record. Two of the losses were by five points or less — 46-41 to Greensburg Central Catholic to open the year and 59-57 in overtime at Keystone Oaks.

“We are showing a lot of progress. Sometimes, progress looks like failure,” Mars coach Tony Howard said. “The teams we lost to, we thought we had chances to win. Two of those teams had great senior individual efforts against us. I like the way we are progressing. When we have a chance to put teams away, we have to get a little better at that and give ourselves little more leeway down the stretch. I thought we'd be 3-2, but some of that is on me. But, with five games in seven days, we didn't really have a chance to get back in the gym and make adjustments.”

Once they did, it paid off for the Planets. They followed that busy stretch with a 50-42 win over Franklin Regional.

“We have three returning starters and everyone else has little experience. We were just getting over the shock and awe and looking for the schedule to calm down,” Howard said. “I hope the schedule sets us up to be competitive on the back end. We practiced all summer and spring and then had to play literally 25 percent of our games in one week.”

The key victory in that stretch was a 52-28 win at Valley in the WPIAL Section 1-AAA opener.

“We want to win them all, but that was the one we had to have,” Howard said. “Valley has three good players. We were worried going up there; it was our third game of the week and fifth game in seven days.”

Fortunately for Mars, it could rely on an experienced junior trio of Sara Getsy, Ali Goetz and Jess Bunner while the younger girls adjusted.

“When those three are playing together and clicking, it gives us a good trio for teams to try to stop,” Howard said. “We have a lot of different options and ways to attack with those three. We feel comfortable with the ball in any of their hands. We can put them anywhere on the floor and get a matchup advantage.”

Freshman Nicole McCloud, senior Daniella Paras, sophomores Ellysa Paras, Elise Sheehy and Bri Buzard and junior Bonnie Workman all have been in the team's rotation.

“We can go big or small depending on who we're playing,” Howard said. “Daniella was injured, but she is getting back into full-time minutes. Bonnie caught fire this year as a shooter. She made a lot of threes at Valley. It's good to see her get comfortable and get caught up to the speed of the game. We have confidence she can make big shots for us.”

Howard believes his team will only improve.

“The losses may seem like failures, but we can see the progress,” he said. “We're still playing somewhat young with all of those young bodies out there. We're still getting used to the speed of the varsity game. Different teams give us different speeds. We're a little small. We have to do a lot of the little things like boxing out. Ever since I have been at Mars, I think we always play harder than our opponents. That's the goal. I want to get to the point when get to go against the bigger and strong teams, we can rebound and hold our own underneath. That's something we have to overcome against some teams.”

Mars, which finished second in the section last year and 15-8 overall, hopes to return to the WPIAL playoffs. The Planets dropped a 56-31 decision to Elizabeth-Forward in a first-round game last year.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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