Mars boys soccer team sets standard of excellence in WPIAL Class AA

| Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Just making it to the playoffs is a goal for many teams.

For the Mars boys soccer squad, competing for a WPIAL Class AA championship is the standard.

The Planets have played in the district title game four of the past five years. They've won two titles (2008-09) in that run. In addition, the squad has made the playoffs 11 consecutive years and captured one PIAA runner-up finish (2007) in that span.

“We've been to the WPIAL final four of the past five years, and these guys are thinking that's what everybody has done, so that is what they need to do. They set that goal to get back to the championship,” Mars coach Chris Knauff said. “It's not easy, though. There are a lot of teams we will have to get through. It's an obtainable goal, but it's definitely a difficult challenge.”

Mars will have a challenge in trying to replace Spencer Posey.

He had 32 goals and 18 assists last fall. He helped the Planets go 69-17-5 with a pair of section titles and one WPIAL crown in his four years.

“I think we are more of a balanced team than last year. Last year, we leaned heavily on Spencer. He's one of best to come through our system. We have some pretty good players back, though,” Knauff said.

Noah Hudac and Conner Robick can play in the midfield or at forward. Jesse Perfett is a central midfielder, and Greg Campbell can play outside midfielder or drop to defense at outside back.

“Spencer scored over half our team's goals. But, if a team was able to shut him down, that really stymied our attack,” Knauff said. “Now, I don't think we have that one guy that a team could shut down that would then shut the whole team down. We probably won't have a goal scorer in the 20s, but we'll have a handful of goalscorers on the team.”

Mars hopes to use its passing as an advantage.

“We're a good possession team. There are a lot of good passers, especially through the midfield,” Knauff said. “Really, our focus is in keeping possession of the ball and stretching out the other team.”

Last year, the Planets allowed just seven goals in 18 regular-season contests and yielded 14 in 23 overall matches. Junior Ian McNany anchors the back line at central defender. Nick Cimini, Tyler Kuntz, Nate Bayuk, Justin Simakas and Campbell will see time in the back.

“I think they have chemistry,” Knauff said. “They seem to get along and work well together. We're working on just talking more on the field, not being afraid to be loud and make your voice heard. That's something, especially with our younger guys, they need to work on a bit.”

Sophomore Dale Glavin steps into the starting goalkeeping job, as Joe Kelly, who had 11 shutouts last year, graduated.

“Dale is a very strong goalie,” Knauff said. “Joe was good, but I don't see us taking a step down with Dale.”

McNany serves as the team's captain.

“Ian is a very good player. He worked out at every optional thing he could do this summer. He plays year-round soccer,” Knauff said. “He was a good player last year. He has definitely improved. He is a good leader and leads by example. He stepped up this year.”

Knauff hopes to help lead Mars back to the WPIAL championship. Last year, the squad dropped a 2-1 decision to Quaker Valley with four seconds left in the second overtime period.

“I still have nightmares. If I was on the field playing it would be worse,” Knauff said. “These guys are willing to put the work in again to get back. They have been working very hard. They see it is not going to be easy. They know they are going to have to scrape for it.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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