Knoch cross country teams get quick start out of the gate

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Knoch's boys and girls cross country teams have big goals this season.

So far, they're happy with their pace — on the course and in the standings.

Both Knights squads are coming off strong showings at the recent Slippery Rock Invitational. The boys placed seventh overall — third among Class AA teams — in a 46-team field, and the girls were fifth overall in a 36-team field and first among Class AA opponents.

“We all ran very well as a team,” Knoch coach Wess Brahler said. “We're hoping for big things for both the boys and girls this year.”

Knoch's boys returned five of the top seven runners from last year's squad that placed sixth at the WPIAL championships. So far, though, the Knights have proven to be contenders this year. They began on a positive note with the team championships at the Quad County Warm-Up and West Middlesex Big Red Invitational.

“We're pretty excited,” Brahler said. “Winning the Big Red Invitational and finishing third at the Slippery Rock Invitational really helped us start the season off in the right direction.”

Preston Carlsson, a junior, and Brandon Grumski, a sophomore, have been helping lead the Knights. Carlsson, who finished fifth at last year's WPIAL championship and 33rd at the PIAA championship, won the Quad County Warm-Up and finished fourth at the Big Red Invitational.

While Carlsson struggled at the Slippery Rock Invitational, Grumski stepped up. Grumski, who finished second at the Quad County Warm-Up and seventh at the Big Red Invitational, placed fifth overall and second among Class AA runners.

“He ran a personal best of 16:54,” Brahler said. “He is really excited about it.”

Overall, the Knights were flying on the Slippery Rock course at Cooper's Lake Campground, which doubles as the site of the WPIAL championship meets.

“Our team average was 18:02. That's the fastest average this time of year in our history,” Brahler said. “Also, 10 of our 21 boys ran personal bests. That was pretty impressive.”

Other top Knoch finishers included Paul Kasunic (84th, 18:14), John Ejzak (87th, 18:15), Nathaniel Pettit (95th, 18:19), Aidan Neigh (97th, 18:23), Luke Brewer (102nd, 18:29) and Andy Kingan (117th, 18:42).

“Our goal is to qualify for states and challenge for a WPIAL championship. That's what we'll strive for and work for every day in practice,” Brahler said. “It all comes back to our summer. We started preparation in June. We met three days a week, and they all had their training plans.

“It's a special group. They've all bought in and they all get along. It's the same way with the girls. They have their plan in place, too. They want to contend for a WPIAL title and want to get back to states. There's something special about these girls, too.”

The Knights sport a young, but experienced girls squad. Junior Ashlyn Carlsson and sophomores Abby Jones, Mandi Moxie, Mandy Hunt and Lauren Karenbauer all return from last year's PIAA qualifying team.

“They have their goals set high this year,” Brahler said. “I don't think they were surprised by making it to the state meet last year. They knew that they had some talent. That was our focus all season.”

Moxie led Knoch's girls at the Slippery Rock Invitational. She placed 24th in 20:53. Ashlyn Carlsson (51st, 21:40), Karenbauer (53rd, 21:42), Hunt (62nd, 21:54), freshman Rachel Wittmer (78th, 22:12), Jones (78th, 22:43) and junior Elizabeth Butler (173rd, 24:38) also competed.

“We're slowly coming around in the shape we need to be in,” Brahler said. “The girls have been at this since June, too, and they're slowly getting back in race shape. Once we fine-tune things, it'll be pretty exciting. They're on the right track.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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