North Xtra: Knoch clinches a berth in WPIAL tournament

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In the section standings the difference between second and third place may not seem like much -- in the postseason it is a whole different story.

Last year the Knoch girls soccer team finished third in the section and their reward was the No. 14 seed and a first-round date with Central Valley. The Knights would fall to the eventual WPIAL semifinalist Warriors, 6-0.

When the WPIAL playoff pairings are set this season, Knoch should find itself in a more favorable position this time around.

"It is definitely much better to finish second," Knoch coach Rich Kenzie said. "We should be seeded significantly higher based on our record."

With a 10-2-1 record in Class AA Section 2, Knoch is in line for a second-place finish in the section. Through 13 section games, Mars Area (13-0) leads the section ahead of second-place Knoch, followed by Freeport (8-4-1), Highlands (7-6) and Burrell (7-6).

Overall, Knoch is 12-3-1 with non-section wins against Riverside and Slippery Rock.

"We did well against Highlands and beat them both times, it put us in a really good spot," Kenzie said.

The big difference this season has been Knoch's performance against Highlands, the second-place finisher in the section last year. In 2012 Knoch fell to Highlands, 1-0 and 3-1. This year Knoch swept Highlands 3-1 on the road and 1-0 at home.

"We didn't really struggle last year, we just didn't do that great," Kenzie said. "We had some weird results. Losing both times to Mars and both times to Highlands, that really set us back. The biggest difference for us is in goalkeeping."

Senior Lexie Galbreath is a returning starter in net for Knoch.

"She has improved significantly this year," Kenzie said. "She worked really hard in the offseason. She went to some goalie camps and had private training. She really took some initiative and she has really done well."

After only shutting out four teams all of last season, the Knights have seven shutouts this season.

Galbreath has been helped out by a strong defense anchored by central defender, senior Abbey Gore.

"Abbey is really tough to get past," Kenzie said. "Even in our losses we haven't given up too many goals."

Junior central defender Aly Hutterer is another returning starter on defense and two freshmen start as outside defenders, Lauren Betts as right back and Allie Gore as left back. Allie is the younger sister of Abbey Gore.

Knoch will receive a boost for the stretch run with the return of senior Gabi Lassinger this week. Lassinger was injured in the first meeting against Mars. She is second on the team with 12 goals.

Knoch's leading scorer is senior forward Olivia Sharbaugh. She is the last in a long line of Sharbaughs who have been soccer standouts at Knoch. Her oldest sister, Amanda, is the all-time leading scorer at Knoch with 114 goals.

A 2008 graduate, Amanda Sharbaugh is now an assistant on the Knoch team. Another older sister, Danielle, is currently playing at John Carroll University near Cleveland while older brother Adam played four years at Gannon University.

Olivia Sharbaugh had 14 goals through 15 games.

Other scoring options for Knoch include sophomore midfielder Kaelyn Oskin and junior Mikayla Crouch. Oskin has nine goals this season including a hat trick against Valley. Crouch is a first-year starter.

"Last year we didn't have those extra forwards to cycle in and give those players a rest," Kenzie said. "It is nice to be able to cycle in a couple forwards and get some fresh legs out there."


First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM


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