Strong finish encouraging for Mars girls basketball team

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A playoff loss can be devastating for any team.

Not for the Mars girls basketball squad.

In fact, the Planets can't wait to get back into the gym to start preparing for next season. Two things spark that enthusiasm — they came close to beating one of the WPIAL's top teams, and the entire starting lineup returns.

Naturally, Mars was upset after its 53-45 loss to Central Valley in a WPIAL Class AAA first-round game. The Planets led throughout the first half before the Warriors stormed back in the second when senior standouts Seairra Barrett and Kiana Law took over the game.

Mars was within four points in the final minute, but could not complete the rally.

“I thought we really competed well. I am real proud of the girls with the way they played in the first half. In the second half, those girls just took it over a little and got things going. We weren't able to keep up with them athletically,” Mars coach Tony Howard said.

“To be down four with a minute left, we had a chance to make some plays and try to get a stop. We just came up a little bit short.

“I think they were disappointed, but they processed it. I think they were happy with the way they competed. They are anxious to get back in the gym and get started.

“We're looking to work on some things and continue to get better and hopefully have another opportunity next year.”

The Planets continued their progression. Last year, they finished second in Section 1-AAA at 10-2 and 15-8 overall. Elizabeth Forward cruised past Mars, 56-31, in a first-round playoff matchup.

This season, Mars tied for the section title at 11-1 and finished 15-7 overall.

“Last year, we didn't even compete in the first-round game. We want to win, but at least we're getting closer to where we want to go,” Howard said.

This season, the Planets split with section rival Hampton to share the section title. Mars won the first meeting, 47-44, but dropped the second one, 37-26. The Talbots swept both games a year ago.

“I am proud of the fact we know we can play with Hampton and expect to beat Hampton,” Howard said. “We believe we should be in the playoffs and win games. Believing you can do it is part of the process.

“I am hopeful that our belief, work ethic and leadership can go on down through the younger kids and keep this program going in the right direction.”

The Planets got better as the season progressed. Mars won 10 of its last 11 regular-season games and only two of the team's seven defeats came in the 2014 calendar year.

“As coaches, we want the girls to know how proud we are of how hard they work,” Howard said. “All but one team ends the season with a loss. We're thrilled and proud of how hard they worked.

“We want them to feel appreciated and what they achieved is not easy. There are some real good basketball teams in Triple-A.”

The team's improvement sets the stage for next season. Three-year starters Sara Getsy, Ali Goetz and Jess Bunner return for the Planets. Sophomore Elise Sheehy and freshman Nicole McCloud also return from the starting lineup. Bonnie Workman, a junior, was the first girl off the bench, and she also is back.

“We have a lot of competition for spots, and that's a good thing for the coaching staff,” Howard said. “Hopefully, they drive each other to improve. Next year will be a different schedule and we'll have some new teams in the section.

“We'll have some good teams coming back, too. You never know what's going to change in the offseason. We'll definitely have to stay focused with and try to improve so we can go out and earn our wins.”

Next year, Deer Lakes and Ford City move up to Class AAA and join Section 1 with Hampton, Kittanning, Valley, Knoch, Highlands and Mars, while Freeport drops to Class AA.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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