Knoch girls soccer ready to claw through tough schedule

Sunday, August 26, 2018 | 11:15 AM

Knoch girls soccer clawed its way into fourth place in Section 1-AAA last season, earning a playoff spot for the first time since 2014, and third-year coach Kevin Wood thinks his team is talented enough to get back to the postseason.

Standing in the way, though, is an extremely difficult section that already included WPIAL runner-up Mars, Hampton and Franklin Regional and got stronger with the addition of Kiski Area, a quarterfinalist in Class AAAA a season ago.

It’s a grinding slate, and Wood is counting on senior leaders, including All-WPIAL midfielder Lindsie Galbreath, to help guide a roster of 21 girls this season after losing eight graduated seniors.

“In our section, every game is a playoff game,” Wood said. “The top four teams make it, and we’re trying to be one of those four teams. We’re going to give it a good shot. It’s our goal to make the playoffs again, and I think it’s an obtainable goal. I really do.

“We produce pretty good talent for the size of school we have, and we’re going to compete the best we can.”

Knoch finished 11-8 last year and lost 3-0 in the first round to South Park, which went on to qualify for the PIAA playoffs.

Galbreath, Shiann Thomas, Sara Vasas and Lindsay Fanton were chosen as captains for a team that added only four newcomers. Knoch is the second-smallest school in Class AAA.

The value of having a strong core of captains is something Wood puts stock in, and he’s extremely happy with the way this group has conducted itself.

“One thing we have to our advantage is that we have great senior leadership,” Wood said. “A lot of these girls have been there and done that for three years now. They know what I expect, what to expect from themselves and what it takes to achieve the goals we are trying to obtain.”

Galbreath, who is a four-year starter, is closing in on 100 points for her career and has several college offers.

Thomas is a midfielder, and Vasas plays center back. Fanton is out for the season with a knee injury but still was voted by her teammates as a captain.

Wood said Fanton has handled the adversity well and that she will be a leader from the bench.

“Everyone on the team respects her like she’s a coach,” Thomas said. “We’re going to miss having her out there.”

To counteract having fewer players, Knoch has focused on conditioning to keep players healthy and able to run against teams with more numbers in its section.

“We’ve done a lot of stretching and a lot of fitness to make sure we don’t tear anything because we can’t afford to lose anyone,” Galbreath said.

“We do a ton of running, but we have to because we’re going to be playing a lot.”

Added Vasas: “There’s going to be some girls that are playing the full 90 minutes that haven’t had to do that before, but we’ll be ready.”

Mars has won four WPIAL titles since 2008 and did not allow a goal in section play last season. Franklin Regional lost to Mars in the quarterfinals, and Kiski Area lost to PIAA Class AAAA champion Norwin in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Indiana, Armstrong and Gateway are also in the section.

Knoch will be tested with its first two games when it hosts Kiski Area on Sept. 5 and visits Mars three days later.

Wood is confident the four teams that advance to playoffs will make noise, and he’s hopeful Knoch can be one of them.

“I think there’s a real possibility that two teams from our section play for the championship, and depending on how the WPIAL sets up the bracket, I fully anticipate all four teams from our section that make it winning at least one game,” Wood said.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.


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