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Injuries could play factor in Mars' quest for 4th straight WPIAL girls soccer title

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Mars junior Sabrina Edwards (3) celebrates her goal against Freeport with senior Amber Fichter (8) and freshman Tori Kopchak on during a game Sept. 4, 2013 in Adams Twp.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Mars junior Sabrina Edwards (3) celebrates her goal against Freeport with senior Amber Fichter (8) and freshman Tori Kopchak on during a game Sept. 4, 2013 in Adams Twp.
File photo - Pam Meighan and the Carlynton girls soccer team should benefit from a full offseason with the second-year coaching staff.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>File photo</em></div>Pam Meighan and the Carlynton girls soccer team should benefit from a full offseason with the second-year coaching staff.

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players to watch

Italia Biondi

Penn-Trafford, junior, forward

A transfer from Greensburg Central Catholic, she scored 22 goals and had 14 assists last year.

Pam Meighan

Carlynton, junior, midfield

Meighan scored all three of the Cougars' goals Thursday in a 5-3 loss to Avonworth.

Jenny Vietmeier

South Park, junior, forward

She scored a hat trick Monday in a 4-2 victory over Section 4-AA rival Belle Vernon.

Greer Monahan

Quaker Valley, senior, forward

Monahan, who scored 23 goals a year ago, had three goals Monday in a 7-2 win over Carrick.

Top 5 rankings

Class AAA

1. Norwin 2-0-0

2. Bethel Park 4-0-0

3. Peters Township 4-1-0

4. North Allegheny 2-0-0

5. Chartiers Valley 5-0-0

Class AA

1. Mars 3-0-1

2. Moon 4-0-0

3. Central Valley 2-0-0

4. Hopewell 3-0-0

5. Quaker Valley 5-0-0

Class A

1. Greensburg C.C. 1-1-0

2. Shady Side Academy 3-1-0

3. Sewickley Academy 2-2-0

4. Bishop Canevin 3-0-1

5. South Allegheny 2-1-0

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These two teams have built quite a rivalry over the past few seasons. Defending WPIAL and PIAA champ GCC beat the Dynamos three times last year, after Springdale beat the Centurions in the 2011 PIAA semis.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Call this a different kind of three-peat for the Mars girls soccer team.

A significantly less enjoyable one.

Following the Planets' third consecutive WPIAL Class AA title, a run of supremacy that includes a 69-3-2 record and the 2011 PIAA championship, Mars had three returning seniors suffer torn ACLs this summer.

All of them are out for the year.

“It's a tough way to start the season,” Mars coach Blair Gerlach said. “But fortunately for us, we've got some depth.”

Much of that depth has come as a direct result of Mars players taking part in the Northern Steel Soccer Club, Gerlach's club program.

It's also where forward Karli Paracca and midfielders Olivia Haefner and Maggie Sarver saw their senior seasons end before they started.

Still, fellow senior Amber Fichter isn't worried. She's plenty confident there are enough talented players returning for Mars to make a run at becoming the first WPIAL team to win four consecutive girls soccer titles.

“I love when people think that we're not as good because, honestly, I really think we are,” Fichter said. “It's a great feeling when you play someone and within the first five minutes they're like, ‘Oh, boy.' ”

Fichter — and Mars — would know.

The top-ranked Planets have won three consecutive Section 2-AA titles and haven't lost a section match since Oct. 3, 2009, a span of 47 straight victories. Quaker Valley, Belle Vernon and Moon all went down last fall, as Mars rolled to yet another WPIAL title.

Snagging No. 4 is a goal senior Lydia Dennis has always had, and it's not something she's about to give up on now.

“It's tough, but we have to step up,” Dennis said. “Those injuries aren't going to allow (Paracca, Haefner and Sarver) to play this year, so we have to man up.”

Gerlach thinks his team has enough offense to absorb the loss of Paracca, who scored 38 goals, added 27 assists and was widely considered to be one of the WPIAL's top returning forwards.

Dennis (31 goals, 21 assists) figures to shoulder plenty of the offensive load, perhaps taking over Paracca's spot as the recipient of many of Mars' stretch passes.

Fichter is an outstanding midfielder and should have no problem facilitating Mars' offense. Junior Sabrina Edwards is back after recording 20 goals and 11 assists a season ago. Freshman Tori Kopchak recorded a hat trick during a 10-0 win over Freeport last week.

“I feel like we're very similar offensively to what we were last year as far as scoring goals,” Gerlach said. “I feel that we have three or four players who could all score 25 to 30 goals.”

Defense should also be a strength for Mars, which has an elite defender in outside back Shae O'Connor. Combined with goalkeeper Sarah Dailey (14 shutouts), Mars allowed 13 goals in 23 games in 2012.

Such dominance has become the norm at Mars, which has saddled up beside Peters Township as one of the WPIAL's premier programs.

One so dominant, the Planets' players hope, that a devastating trifecta of injuries can't derail them from their ultimate goal.

“It kind of puts the target on our backs that we're not as strong as were,” Dennis said. “But I feel like we're just as good as we have been.

“Anybody who has their eye on us gives us that extra push to go out and score more.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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