Kittanning's Emily Knepshield is key player for burgeoning soccer team
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Emily Knepshield is serving up assists again this fall for Kittanning, but this year they're in the form of right-footed crosses rather than cross-court sets.
For her senior year, Knepshield passed on returning to her starting role as the setter on the Wildcats' volleyball team and opted to join the Kittanning girls soccer program, which in its second season since being revived is sporting a 7-2-0 record.
The move surprised some people. Kittanning's volleyball program has been a consistent winner is recent years, and Knepshield had played a large role on those teams. But for her final year of high school, Knepshield followed her heart to a spot in the center of Kittanning's midfield.
“I played soccer since I was about 7, but then when I got to high school, there wasn't a girls soccer team,” Knepshield said. “I had played volleyball since seventh grade and played that (in high school), but soccer is my first love. It's my senior year, and I'm so happy I did. It was a great decision.”
In addition to being a first-year addition to the soccer program, Knepshield is the only senior on the team that combines players from all three Armstrong School District high schools — Kittanning, Ford City and West Shamokin.
But even as the oldest on the team and an experienced soccer player, there was an adjustment period to getting back on the field.
“This was the first time I've played in three years,” Knepshield said. “(The underclassmen) are really the experienced ones. They all played together last year, and I didn't get a chance to, so I'm the newbie.”
That adjustment period didn't last long. Knepshield has contributed six goals and five assists for the Wildcats, who have won seven of eight games since dropping their season opener to Burrell. The only loss in that stretch was a 4-2 setback against Class AAA Kiski Area.
“Todd (Harvey, Kittanning's athletic director) told me there was a new girl that might be coming out, and when she got here, just wow,” Kittanning coach Crystal Heder said. “When I started talking to newspapers and other people at the start of the season, they just said, ‘Oh, she plays three or four sports, she's just good at everything.' ”
As a central midfielder, Knepshield has responsibilities on both ends of the field, but her biggest impact has come in the way she helps the team push forward in transition.
Her ability to control the ball and distribute has helped boost the productivity of her teammates in attack, such as juniors Kayly Lazaroff and Kylie Hagofsky, the Wildcats' two top scorers.
“The midfield controls everything, and when she stepped in and played the way she did, it helped the other girls become more confident,” Heder said. “She's brought a lot of leadership to this team, and you could see from day one that the other girls looked up to her. She has the ability to play in college.”
Knepshield's one season of soccer will go down as the first winning season for the Kittanning program, and the senior said it was the right move for her, even if it did mean she was giving up a spot with her friends on the volleyball court.
“The (soccer) girls have been great, and I've made a lot of new friends,” Knepshield said. “The volleyball girls are all great, and I'm glad they're having a great season, too. I'm still friends with them and support them, and they've been very supportive of me.”
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