Westmoreland athletes of the week: Hempfield’s Grace Iwig, Franklin Regional’s Matt Knizner

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Saturday, February 25, 2023 | 8:08 PM


Grace Iwig

School: Hempfield

Sport: Indoor track & field

Year: Junior

Claim to fame: Iwig capped a strong indoor regular season with a victory in the pole vault at the Tri-State Track Coaches Association Championship at Edinboro.

Her winning height was 11 feet, which was a foot better than second place. She took third in the finals last year.

Iwig qualified for the state championships Sunday at Penn State.

What was it like winning the championship at Edinboro?

It felt very good to help my team. Although I didn’t PR, I felt much more confident in myself and my technique.

How many wins do you have this indoor season?

Five.

What is your best vault ever?

My vault at last year’s WPIAL meet was one of my best vaults. There are some things that I’ve been improving during practice, and recently my practice vaults have been looking a lot better, too.

Where did you finish in the WPIAL meet last year?

I PR’d with 11 (feet) 6 (inches) and came in fourth place.

What makes a good pole vaulter?

Supporting other vaulters, good sportsmanship, confidence, self-reliance and understanding that not every jump will be perfect.

When did you start pole vaulting, and what got you started in the event?

I started vaulting in seventh grade. My sixth-grade English teacher suggested I try it out, and I really enjoyed it from the beginning.

What other events do you do?

The high jump and sometimes the (400 relay).

How impressive is watching Liz Tapper throw the shot and discus?

Watching her throw is just as inspiring as watching her vault. She is such a great teammate and is always there to help me and give me advice. I’m so lucky to have gotten the opportunity to jump with her in the past, and it still amazes me how talented she is in her throwing events.

Right before I vault, I ___?

Remind myself that I have vaulted thousands of times.

What are your goals for the upcoming outdoor season?

Continue to improve my technique and become more confident in myself.

What would be your intro music if track and field did such a thing?

“Pleaser,” by Wallows.

Who is your favorite pro athlete?

Bridget Guy.

People would be surprised to know I ____?

Eat baby carrots as my comfort food.

What is your favorite subject in school?

Math.

Least favorite subject?

English.

Have you ever met a famous person?

I saw Usher in New York City.

Matt Knizner

School: Franklin Regional

Sport: Hockey

Year: Senior

Claim to fame: Knizner had quite a game Monday. The 17-year-old senior scored a career-high five goals to help Franklin Regional defeat Latrobe, 10-1, in a PIHL Class 2A game. Knizner has a team-high 25 goals as well as 23 assists for a team-high 48 points. He is the captain of the team, and coach John Winebrenner said he’s a true leader. Franklin Regional has won six of its past eight games.

Have you ever scored that many goals in a game before?

No, that is a first. I’ve had four-goal and three-goal games but never a five-goal game. We played Latrobe early in the season, and they put it to us. We wanted revenge, and we played great as a team. I did my best and was able to find the back of the net.

What turned the season around for the team?

We’ve gotten healthy, and we’ve been playing really well since Christmas. Even though we lost to South Fayette, 5-4, we played a great game and could have won it.

You going into the playoffs as a low seed. How do you plan on winning?

We’ve been to the PIHL finals the last two seasons, and a lot of the players know what it takes to win in the playoffs. The way we are playing right now, I feel we can beat anyone.

You guys lost a lot of seniors from last year. What’s been the message?

Sure we were rebuilding, but that’s no excuse. We returned enough players, and it took us time to jell. We want to win a Pens Cup.

What’s been the difference the past month?

Everyone has stepped up and accepted their roles. We’re playing well as a team. Everyone is playing well.

Who is the toughest team or player you’ve played against?

The 2021 Baldwin team was tremendous. Their goalkeeper, Eddie Nowicki, was fantastic. I did score a goal against him, but he was outstanding.

Who is you favorite hockey team?

Being from Pittsburgh, of course the Penguins. They are not playing well right now, but they need to play defense better. I was at the game against Edmonton, and it wasn’t good. They passed poorly and didn’t play defense.

Who is your favorite hockey player?

Sidney Crosby. I just love watching him play at both ends of the ice.

How old were you when you started to play hockey?

I believe I was four. My parents (April and Allen) signed me up, and I loved it. I knew it was a sport that I wanted to play.

What is your favorite memory playing travel hockey?

When we won the 18U national championship in Troy, Michigan last year. We beat the No. 1 seed from Chicago, 2-0, and I had a goal. It was great.

What’s your favorite vacation spot?

I like the beach. I’ve been to Bethany Beach in Delaware and Myrtle Beach.

Where would you dream vacation spot be?

I want to go to Europe and tour Italy.

Where is your favorite place to go after a game or practice?

We go to Applebee’s for their half-price appetizers.

If you’re mom was making you a special dinner, what would it be?

Some type of pasta with either chicken or meatballs. I eat pasta before every game.

What would your dream ride be?

It would be a Porsche 9-11 GT 3.

Who would like to have lunch or dinner with, and what would you talk about?

I’d love to sit down with Mario Lemieux and talk about his struggles in beating cancer and talk about the game of hockey. He would be fascinating to talk with.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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