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New year brings hot start for Mars girls basketball team

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 4:35 p.m.
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Nicole McCloud is one of the young starters for the Mars girls basketball team.
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Mars girls basketball player Elise Sheehy

A section championship is on the Mars girls basketball team's to-do list this year.

The Planets took a big step toward putting a checkmark next to it with a strong start to 2014.

Mars opened the calendar year with four consecutive wins, including its biggest victory to date — a 47-44 victory over rival Hampton on Jan. 8. That kept the Planets atop the section alone and avenged a pair of losses to the Talbots last year.

“Winning the section is one of our really big goals,” Mars junior Sara Getsy said. “Last year, it was Hampton that we lost to twice. Beating them this time got us excited because we have a good chance of winning the section if we keep playing this well.”

The Planets ended 2013 on a down note, dropping both games of their holiday tournament. Mars opened with a 63-40 loss to Moon and followed with a 56-40 setback to Hopewell. Those losses snapped a four-game winning streak.

“We didn't play real good basketball, and the teams we played had something to do with that,” Mars coach Tony Howard said. “We didn't practice a couple of days before the tournament. Combine that with not playing well and me not strategizing as well as I could have, and it made for a rough couple games.”

Nevertheless, the Planets rebounded once they got back into section play to start the year. They went on the road to beat Kittanning, 49-34, on Jan. 3 and followed with the big win over Hampton. Poor weather and cold temperatures pushed that game back two nights and caused some concern.

Mars, which did not practice during those two bad-weather days, felt the effects of time away from the gym. The Planets trailed by 16 points in the first half against the Talbots.

Mars rallied in the second half and stormed back for the three-point win. The Planets outscored Hampton, 31-14, in the final two quarters.

“We went in not as prepared as we wanted, and we didn't get off to as good a start as we wanted,” Howard said. “Really, we didn't make too many adjustments. We could compete; we just weren't playing sharp. We told them at halftime just to play for each other and to be able to look at themselves after the game knowing they all left it out on the floor. We just got outworked in the first half. We outworked them in the second half. We got some momentum in the fourth and held on.”

That victory was a key boost for the Planets.

“That helps with our confidence,” Getsy said. “We still have to focus and not think our other games are automatic wins because they aren't.”

Mars remains a young team. No seniors start for the Planets, but juniors Ali Goetz, Jess Bunner and Getsty returned as starters from a year ago. Nicole McCloud and Elise Sheehy round out the starting five.

Bonnie Workman, Bailey Campbell, Gabby Kosobucki, Ellysa Paras, Paige Castora and Daniella Paras have worked into the team's rotation.

“We're still considered a ‘young' team in my opinion, and we still make some of those ‘young' mistakes,” Howard said. “We're shooting the ball better. Some nights we rebound well and some nights we don't.

“We play better when we play fast. Some nights we do a better job of controlling the tempo. The younger girls are starting to feel comfortable now. We had so many games in the first couple weeks, and we didn't have time to work on it in practice. I think right now, as a staff, we're getting more comfortable with people's roles. There is still some work to be done and things we need to improve. The Hampton win was a nice win and, hopefully, a confidence booster to propel us going forward.”

The Planets kept it going after beating Hampton. Mars posted wins over Highlands, 59-13, and Knoch, 68-25, in its next two games.

“It is really nice to get some wins in a row, and we can be more confident,” Getsy said. “After our Christmas tournament, we were down. We didn't expect to play that bad. These past wins have been really good for us.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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