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Mars repeats as WPIAL Class 2A girls lacrosse champions

Last One, Best One
Mars’ McKenna Merritt (12), with help of teammates, dump a bucket of water on head coach Abby Latona after the Planets defeated Chartiers Valley, 14-6, Thursday to win the WPIAL 2A girls lacrosse championship at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon Township. Jared Todhunter/Special to the Eagle 05/23/2024

MOON TWP — Mars operated by a manageable motto during Thursday’s WPIAL Class 2A title tilt.

“Play grittier, keep the ball, and put it in the back of the net,” Planets girls lacrosse coach Abby Latona said after being doused in water by her jubilant players. “Momentum is huge in lacrosse — and that’s exactly what we tried to keep tonight.”

After a first-quarter scoring pause, Mars enjoyed a four-goal run that bridged the initial two quarters and boosted it to a 14-6 win over Chartiers Valley at Robert Morris University.

McKenna Merritt’s marker with 16 seconds to go in the opening frame broke a 10-minute stalemate and tailed a goal by the Colts’ Juliana Betts 32 ticks prior.

Mars’ Ava Day (25) celebrates after scoring a goal during the WPIAL 2A Girls Lacrosse Championship against Chartiers Valley on Thursday afternoon at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon Township. Jared Todhunter/Special to the Eagle05/23/2024

With both goalies — the Planets’ Ella Roach and Chartiers Valley’s Kaitlyn Kuczinski — standing tall during that stretch, Colts coach Melissa Moran was encouraged by matters at that point in that contest.

“I felt confident in that score,” said Moran of her thoughts after Betts deposited her first of two goals. “Obviously, I planned to have more goals at that time. But I was comfortable because that’s where we stood last time we played them this season.

“The second-quarter plan was to open it up more and settle down on offense and be able to find the open cutters. But they did a good job of shutting down some of our key shooters today.”

Mars (17-2-1) focused on control, one of three main bullet points in its maxim.

“It was going to be who was going to have possession, who was going to have momentum,” Latona said. “We knew if we had the ball, then we were going to be able to finish it. ... Those are two standout goalies in all (of the) WPIAL.”

Merritt added another score 4:07 after her first, that being bookended by tallies by Mya Cote and Tess McGrath. The surge helped leave Chartiers Valley (16-3) behind.

“I was like, ‘We can do this. We’re in this. We just need to get the lead ... and put them to bed,’” Merritt said, highlighting her team’s attitude during the lull.

Megan White ended the dry spell for the Colts with 4:45 left in the half, then McGrath scored the second of her three goals on the day to provide a four-goal edge midway through.

Mallorie LaGamba got Chartiers Valley on the board again 37 seconds into the third, but McGrath, Merritt, and Cote collaborated for another four-goal charge to put it out of reach.

“We don’t have a deep bench and they were able to tire us out early, get that lead early, and then start to just start to pull away,” Moran said.

Merritt and Cote had four goals each and an assist each. Kennedy Kolson chipped in with another, while Anna Bowser had a helper. All are seniors.

“That’s the thing about this senior class is that they’re a power class,” Latona said. “When I came in my first year, they were sophomores and I said, ‘Wait until they’re seniors.’ ... That was the first thing that was said in the locker room (before), ‘Last one, best one for them.’

“They’re the standard.”

Planets freshman Hailey Long added two goals and McGrath an assist.

“We saw the back of the net,” Latona said. “The first time we saw them (a 10-3 win on April 10), I think it was a 32% shooting percentage. I think it was higher tonight. The thing about us is that we have a lot of depth and we use it. ... We have a lot of people that can score and a lot of people that can get that ball from goalie to defense to middies to attack.

“That’s team lacrosse.”

Roach, a junior, had 10 saves. Her counterpart, Kuczinski, made 15 on 34 Mars shots. The Planets have now won three of the past four WPIAL Class 2A crowns and two straight. They were the runner-up to the Colts in 2022.

“It’s just a testament that hard work pays off,” Latona said. “When you’re on top, it’s even harder to stay at the top.”

Mars girls lacrosse wins their second straight championship defeating Chartiers Valley 14-6 Thursday afternoon at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon Township, Pa. Special to the Butler Eagle / Jared Todhunter. 05/23/2024
Mars Hailey Long (3) goes after a ground ball during the WPIAL 2A Girls Lacrosse Championship against Chartiers Valley Thursday afternoon at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon Township, Pa. Special to the Butler Eagle / Jared Todhunter. 05/23/2024
Mars McKenna Merritt (12) scores a goal during the WPIAL 2A Girls Lacrosse Championship against Chartiers Valley Thursday afternoon at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon Township, Pa. Special to the Butler Eagle / Jared Todhunter. 05/23/2024
Mars Ella Roach (35) makes a save during the WPIAL 2A Girls Lacrosse Championship against Chartiers Valley Thursday afternoon at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon Township, Pa. Special to the Butler Eagle / Jared Todhunter. 05/23/2024
Mars Claire Magness (32) defends aginast Chartiers Valley's Natalia Palumbo (11) during the WPIAL 2A Girls Lacrosse Championship Thursday afternoon at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon Township, Pa. Special to the Butler Eagle / Jared Todhunter. 05/23/2024
Mars Anna McGrath (27) passes the ball during the WPIAL 2A Girls Lacrosse Championship against Chartiers Valley Thursday afternoon at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon Township, Pa. Special to the Butler Eagle / Jared Todhunter. 05/23/2024

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