North Xtra: Knoch 'beefs up' for WPIAL meet

Knights a threat

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Before every meet, the Knoch High School cross country team gets together and performs the same chant to get inspired.

"Beef Hot Links," junior Preston Carlsson said.


"I think Alex Cetnar was really into the Hillshire Farms commercial with the Beef Hot Links chant, so we started doing it," Carlsson explained. "It really gets us pumped up. It's hilarious."

Hey, whatever works.

Led by Carlsson and sophomore Brandon Grumski, the Knights will be in the mix for a PIAA berth at the WPIAL Class AA cross country meet today at Cooper's Lake Campground.

"We're going after a spot at states," Knoch coach Wess Brahler said. "We have the quality runners to finish top three, but it's not going to be easy for anyone."

The Knights chances are boosted by having two likely top-10 finishers in the race.

Carlsson finished fifth in the WPIAL Class AA meet last season, and the four finishers in front of him were seniors. This season, he finished fourth at the West Middlesex Big Red Invitational, second in the Central Catholic Invitational among smaller schools and 36th at the Tri-State Invitational last week at Cooper's Lake.

But he has faced plenty of competition from his teammate, Grumski. And Carlsson likes it.

"It's really good," Carlsson said. "It's good to have that. It's much more positive to have that push coming from a teammate than an opponent."

Grumski and Carlsson have traded the top spot for Knoch back and forth this season. Grumski finished seventh at West Middlesex, finished second among Class AA runners at the Slippery Rock Invitational at Cooper's Lake (Carlsson finished 133rd), third in the Central Catholic Invitational among smaller schools and 19th last week at Tri-State.

"They feed off each other," Brahler said. "They've gone back and forth all year and there's very little difference between the two of them right now."

Grumski finished 19th at last season's WPIAL meet, but Brahler thinks he is just now starting to come into his own as a runner.

"He's starting to realize the potential he has," Brahler said. "He put in a lot of hard work this summer and he's seeing the payoff. He'll be there at the end when it counts."

Even with Grumski and Carlsson leading the way, Knoch will still need good performances out of its next three runners to get a PIAA berth. Freshman John Ezjak and junior Paul Kasunic both placed in the top 100 at Tri-State, while Luke Brewer, Aidan Neight and Nathaniel Pettit finished in the top 150 in the 600-competitor field. That helped the Knights finish ninth, ahead of all other Class AA teams in the event except Mars Area.

But six-time defending WPIAL champion Quaker Valley did not compete, and South Fayette sent mostly its junior varsity to the competition. Those two teams will be the favorites, so it may be Knoch battling Mars, Moon and others for the final PIAA meet berth.

But Carlsson thinks his team has what it takes to advance to Hershey.

"We've definitely put in the work," Carlsson said. "We're right there with the top teams. It just comes down to how we perform [today]. I very much have high hopes for us."

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