Knoch boys soccer undergoing major overhaul
After falling short on previous occasions, Knoch boys soccer last season broke Mars’ four-year stranglehold on Section 1-AAA.
Winning a section crown for the first time in nine seasons, besting their Butler County archrival and making an appearance in the WPIAL quarterfinals made for a banner season, but when it ended, the eight starters left for graduation.
Knoch has four captains to build on in seniors Eli Keller, Nathaniel Webb and Mark Ciora and junior Adam Walker.
“At this time last year I think I had nine players who I knew were going to be starters, and right now I probably have seven,” Knoch coach Malcolm Cook said. “We’re two spots behind, which is good in a way because that means there’s lots of competition going on for those last few spots. The younger players we have are good players, and they’re trying to force their way in. We’re a young side anyways. We really don’t have too many seniors. It’ll be interesting to see who works their way into the lineup.”
Knoch and Mars both finished 10-1-1 in Section 1-AAA last year, but Knoch won the tiebreaker by winning the first meeting 2-1. The rematch was a 2-2 draw. It was their first win against the Planets since 2013, ending a seven-game losing streak.
“One thing I remember is that I was on a right wing, and in the last five minutes I don’t think I went on the other half of the field. Coach had us all back playing defense,” Webb said about the Mars win. “On a late corner, I was on the post and a shot was coming to the corner I was at and I cleared it. It would’ve tied the game. The game went so fast, but we remember the ending.”
Knoch finished 13-5-2, losing to eventual WPIAL champion Montour, 1-0, in the quarterfinals. It was the third consecutive season Knoch was eliminated in the playoffs by the team that went on to win the WPIAL title.
Keller and Webb played forward last year but have been seeing time on the back line in training camp. Ciora is a midfielder, and Walker plays center back. He is the lone returning starter on defense.
Where the experienced players play will depend on others’ development.
“We know it’s going to be difficult because we are younger, but it’s also quite interesting actually, because you’re hoping that two or three show that they have a little bit more,” Cook said. “You go onto a soccer field, and you see a smaller ninth grader and you don’t think he’ll do much, but he starts doing things that are quite magical. It’s nice to see some younger guys step up. You would like to have 11 seniors every year, but you’re never going to get that.”
Aside from Mars, Hampton and Indiana also made the playoffs in Section 3 last year. North Hills and Kiski Area dropped from Class AAAA and joined the section, which includes Armstrong and Highlands.
The expectation for the Knights is to make a fifth consecutive postseason appearance.
“It’s always our goal to get to the playoffs, plain and simple,” Cook said. “Whatever team we have is good enough to do it, but the question is if there are three or four schools that might end up being better than us. We won the section last year, so as far as I’m concerned, they have to take it away from us. There are a few that have to step up in the group for us to achieve that.”