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Seed for Mars-Moon unprecedented showdown of champions was planted back in 2017

Photos courtesy of Long Hong

Since January when PIAA reallignment came out, the WPIAL Girls Class 3A Final match pitting the most recent Class 4A WPIAL and PIAA champion Moon against the reigning Class 3A WPIAL and PIAA champion Mars, is the match many of us who follow soccer closely in Western PA couldn’t wait to see.

It’s interesting when looking back more than five years now, that the seeds to the current incredible Mars unbeaten run of 80 games (78-0-2 record during this run) coinciding as part of an unprecedented match up against another reigning district and state champion were planted back in 2017, when ironically these same two schools met in the Class 3A final.

Mars, located in Butler County, is no doubt a community with a multi-generational soccer tradition of winning and strong youth development, fielded a team with many talented underclassman and challenged a veteran Moon squad that had already won a WPIAL/PIAA championship the year before.

That was the last time, before this season, that both schools were in the same classification.

Moon, being in the higher end of the enrollment zones, moved up to Class 4A from 2018-21.

Going into that match five years ago, the talented and undefeated Moon squad, coached then by Bill Pfeifer (as they are again by the veteran coach), and led by Delaney Snyder, were the likely favorite and many expected them to cruise to an easy victory.

After all, Moon had rolled over every opponent that season.

However, Mars had different ideas, as they kept taking the game to Moon.  Every time Moon scored, Mars would respond with a goal of their own.

Eventually, with the game deadlocked at 2-2, in the 76th minute, the Tigers finally took the lead for good as they capitalized on a corner kick for the second time in the game.

Emily Orr‘s service into the box connected with sophomore Kylee Evans — who managed to get a header on the ball among a scrum — sending the ball under the cross bar, then bouncing behind Mars keeper Claire Valentine.

The thing that stood out the most about that memorable match, was the level of speed and technical ability that was on display from both sides.

“When you are playing against a team like Moon, you have to make them defend. We were able to do that today,” Gerlach said at the time. “We made them a little bit nervous a few times.”

Moon shows ‘no panic’ vs resilient Mars, to repeat as WPIAL champs

Moon vs Mars Photo Gallery (2017) 

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That gave Moon the 3-2 win on that date, but it was interesting to look back at our match report that day, as this wide-eyed reporter capped the story with the following line…

While Mars fell short of winning its fifth WPIAL title this decade, with a roster with only three seniors, they made a statement that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.  

Sure enough, Mars, led by that same nucleus of underclassman who pushed Moon to the brink in 2017, proceeded to reach the Girls 3A final every year since, losing to Oakland Catholic in 2018, then beginning its current run by taking both WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2019, 2020 and 2021.  All those WPIAL championship wins came at the expense of Plum, who kept knocking on the door, as Mars had repeatedly turned them away.

But this — fill in the whatever ‘out-of-this-world’ ‘collision of planets and moons’ cliche saying you want – match-up and rematch of one of the most exciting and high-level of 90 minutes of girls high school soccer ever played, will finally happen on Saturday afternoon at 3:45 p.m. at Highmark Stadium.

The irony is, the match almost didn’t happen as both sides faced some resistance in the 2022 district playoffs, especially Mars.

The Planets were designated as the No. 1 seed, probably based on the fact that the WPIAL playoff seeding committee looked at them as the defending champions of this classification.

Mars are the ones holding the belt (who knows, maybe we can call this the Galaxy Championship Belt?).

It will be Moon, despite being a defending Class 4A champions, unbeaten and untied, who will have to wrestle the belt away from Moon on Saturday.

Mars’ incredible unbeaten streak has been put to the challenge, as they had to scrape through three one-goal wins against a trio of Westmoreland County schools, beating Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional by 1-0 scorelines, and were taken to extra time in both matches, needing Piper Coffield and Gwen Howell goals to keep the streak going. Then got into a bit of a track meet with talented Latrobe, but pulled away for a 4-1 victory.

This year, as Moon inexplicably moved down in classification after winning the Class 4A championship upon Pfeiffer’s return to the program (the veteran coach left to coach Hopewell for a few years), and to no one’s surprise, rolled to a perfect 19-0-0 record.   Moon, following its Class 4A dominance in 2021, have made their mark as an impenetrable and unbreakable unit, giving up just one goal all season. ‘ In the playoffs, they’ve outscored opponents 14-0, though did have some resistance in the quarterfianal vs Latrobe, and early in the semifinal vs Plum, but won those matches, 2-0 and 3-0.

That one goal they allowed came against Butler, a Class 4A quarterfinalist, in an early September, 3-1 win.

“We would really like the opportunity to play against anybody in the final,” Mars coach Blair Gerlach told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week.

“But knowing the caliber of the team on the other side, we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Together, since 2015, Mars and Moon have combined for a whopping seven district titles and six State championships.

How much talent will be on the field in this match-up?  Each team is represented by two of the three finalists for the Moe Rosensteel Outstanding Player of the Year award.

The Tigers are led by Hailey Longwell, a Duquesne commit who leads the way, along with a talented and deep group that can score in bunches and don’t give up many goals.

The Planets have Piper Coffield, who’s sister Ellie, won the inaugural Rosensteel Award in 2019, and is now featuring in the central midfield for No. 19 ranked Pitt.  Coffield will take a different path, as she has commited to Indiana University.  This season, Coffield scored a team-high 21 goals in the regular season.

Leaders on both sides are aplenty.

Mars also features 2021 all-state defender Gwen Howell, who came through with both game winners in the extra time matches vs Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional.

In addition to Longwell, Moon’s junior forward Sydney Felton must be accounted for by the Mars back line.

To gauge interest in this match, all you have to do is talk with most folks in and around the girls soccer circles in the area, and the first thing they’ll want to talk about is, who will win, Moon or Mars?

On this week’s Kids on the Pitch podcast, Mount Pleasant Head Coach Rich Garland, who boasts long-standing friendships with both coaches in this match, couldn’t pick a winner, but agreed that there’s an awful lot of buzz about this match-up.

“It’s going to be a great match,” Garland said. “Even our girls were saying that they’re going to want to stick around (after Mt. Pleasant’s preceeding championship match vs Avonworth) to see this confrontation.”


WPIAL Girls 3A Soccer Championship

Moon (19-0-0) vs Mars (17-0-0)

Saturday, November 5, 2022  |  3:30 p.m.  |  Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA

PSN Coverage Team:  John Krysinsky (reporting) & Ed Thompson (photography)

Live Stream:  TribHSSN.triblive.com

Moon Tigers 

Head Coach – Bill Pfeifer

Roster 

How they got here: 

Regular season:  Section 4 Champions (12-0-0 in section play)

WPIAL Playoffs:  def Indiana, 9-0, def Oakland Catholic, 2-0; def Plum, 3-0

Mars Planets

Head Coach – Blair Gerlich

Roster 

How they got here: 

Regular season: Section 1 Champions (12-0-0 in section play)

WPIAL Playoffs:  def Penn-Trafford 1-0, def Franklin Regional, 1-0; def Latrobe, 4-3

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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