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Wins coming quicker than expected for first-year lacrosse program at Mars

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Shaler's James Hulse (right) struggles with Mars' Owen Vasbinder when Mars hosted Shaler in lacrosse Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Mars' Charles Frye (top) struggles for the ball against Shaler's Devin Kohler when Mars hosted Shaler in lacrosse Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Mars' Will King (right) battles for a loose ball against Shaler's Alex Wood when Mars hosted Shaler in lacrosse Wednesday, April 17, 2013.

Mars has one of the WPIAL's newest boys varsity lacrosse programs.

The Planets, however, are not performing like a first-year team.

Mars has experienced success in its inaugural year participating at the high school level and went 3-2 in its first five games.

“The confidence, overall, is good. They are starting to get a feel for what they need to do,” Mars coach Justin Karam said.

“They are just right above where they need to be. Once it clicks, they're going have a tremendous upside.”

The Planets have 32 players on their roster, 20 of whom are freshmen.

That can be a problem, at times, because teams with older players might have more experience or a physical advantage. However, the squad sees it as a positive.

“Things are getting better every day. This season, we try not to measure our success on wins and losses, but improvement,” Karam said.

“We have to make sure we're building the right way and getting things done and learning how the game needs to be played.”

Mars has an advantage over most first-year teams.

The Mars Youth Lacrosse Association has been in existence for a handful of years and has given younger players a chance to learn fundamentals.

“That's a big thing. Playing lacrosse is a lot harder than it looks. It's tough to just jump right in against good competition,” Karam said.

“We are ahead of the curve now. Most teams that start programs don't have that youth program backing behind them. Stick skills are the first thing players need to develop. We're fortunate our guys have those and can work on more advanced things like game play and tactics.”

Mars is one of four new varsity boys lacrosse teams in the WPIAL, joining Moon, Aquinas Academy and Gateway.

The Planets are in Division 2, Section 3 with North Hills, Quaker Valley, Shaler, Vincentian and Aquinas Academy.

Three teams from each Division 2 section qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

“When we've played within our division, we have been playing well,” Karam said.

“If we play well enough, making the playoffs is a possibility. Right now, I would say we're a little bit ahead of expectations.”

Karam, a 2005 Butler High School graduate, served as Butler's junior varsity coach the past two years.

“It's probably the first time the person coaching them hasn't been a parent or a parent of a player in the Mars youth program,” he said.

“Vince Grieco and Bob Marcoux did a great job coaching in the youth program. Both had college lacrosse experience, and that helped.

“It's different because this is the first time they're being coached by someone outside of the youth program. Plus, I am 26. I am older than these guys, but not old enough to be a parent. In the back of my mind, I sometimes worry that could be an issue.”

A substitute teacher, Karam got to know some of the players from having them in class. Also, he coached some of them over the summer in a youth lacrosse league.

Karam was appointed head coach in February, so he had little time to get the Planets ready for the season. He plans on instituting a full offseason plan this year.

“We had six conditioning sessions indoors before we got to go outside and practice. That definitely was not a lot, but it was better than nothing,” Karam said.

“At the same time, this year was just about getting everything set up and ready to go. Most of the other schools have had some sort of offseason program.

“Butler has a summer program for players to lift and a conditioning session all winter. They have optional practices in the fall and winter conditioning starting in January. It would help us tremendously if we could do that. We'll have those advantages next year.”

The Planets' large roster also allows them to play a junior varsity schedule, which helps the players' development.

“You can only have 10 play at a time, so if we have the same 20 freshmen three years from now, we'll have 20 guys who will know what to expect and how we coach and how we want to play. That's awesome,” Karam said.

“These guys are competitors. They are going to be getting after it. They do know the future is bright, but they want the future to be tomorrow. They want to win now.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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