Competition to bring out best in Knoch boys soccer

Saturday, August 24, 2019 | 10:41 PM

When Knoch boys soccer coach Malcolm Cook looked back at last season, the overarching theme was that there were too many holes in the lineup to find the right combination to be competitive.

Early signs in training camp point to that no longer being an issue.

Cook feels he has 15 or more players who have showed they can play, and there will be some competition to see who will get into the starting 11.

The deeper roster and a rejuvenated attitude around the team after missing the postseason for the first time in four years has Cook feeling optimistic.

“We don’t know who the star is going to be, but we have competition in just about every place this year,” Cook said. “Everyone is buzzing and realizing they can play if they can improve. There were too many holes last year. The ones who were playing now that were sophomores and juniors last year, stepped up and now they know what they are doing.”

Knoch won a section title in 2017 but saw a large group graduate, leaving a void last season. The Knights finished 6-10-2 overall and 5-8-1 in a tie for sixth in Section 1-3A.

A week into camp Cook has been pleased with the team’s progression.

“Physically and mentally these guys are more mature this year,” Cook said. “They know their job and what they are supposed to do. At the start of a training session, it’s not like they just stroll in. Most of them are here a half hour early or at least 15 minutes early. This time last year they were quite content to stroll in and that doesn’t work with me.”

Seniors Adam Walker and Larry Leasure and junior Stu Milcic are team captains. Walker was a captain last season.

Each captain brings a unique personality to the team and all three will be tasked with communicating with their teammates to keep everything running smoothly.

“At the high school level, you’re not going to get 11 experienced and knowledgeable players, so the ones that are experienced have to tell the others what they need to do, before they get into the wrong areas,” Cook said. “It’s difficult in life to have skill and be able to transfer that over to others. There are good bosses and there are guys who know exactly how to do things and not be able to tell others how to do it.”

An area that Cook wants to see his team improve upon is cleaning up mental mistakes in the early portion of games. Cook said too many times last year his team would yield an early goal and have to play from behind.

“At the beginning we have to make sure we aren’t doing things on our own,” Cook said. “You’ll see pretty poor teams give up a silly goal early and they end up chasing the game the rest of the way and then giving up another one.”

Knoch is in Section 1 with perennial powers Mars and Hampton. Mars was a semifinalist last year. Hampton and Kiski Area won a playoff game, and Indiana qualified for the postseason. Highlands, North Hills and Armstrong round out a section that should be competitive.

“There’s not team really that is going to give you any games,” Cook said. “In the past in certain divisions we’ve played you look at the schedule and maybe see a spot where you can rest a guy, but not anymore. The other teams are thinking the same thing. They don’t want to play Knoch at Knoch. They know it’s going to be a game. It’ll be who wants it on that day. It’s about who can get their kids psyched up to play. And I don’t mean running around like a headless chicken, but being organized and sticking to the plan.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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