Knoch girls face tough decision in goal for playoffs
The Knoch girls soccer team was in a bind early this season. In the opening minutes of a Section 2-AA match against Valley, freshman Becca Stockert — the only goalkeeper on the Knights' varsity roster — severely sprained her left ankle in a collision with a Vikings player.
That left Knoch, a playoff hopeful entering the season, scrambling to find another goalkeeper.
Enter freshman Bailey Gizienski, a defender from the junior varsity team. Gizienski took over as varsity goalkeeper in the fifth game of the season and helped Knoch (11-4, 8-2) earn a WPIAL Class AA playoff berth last week.
Now, Knoch finds itself in a different goalkeeper-related bind: Stockert returned last week, giving the Knights two experienced players with the postseason approaching.
“(There's some uncertainty about) who's going to take it,” Gizienski said. “It was Becca's position first, and I don't want to be that girl that took her position. But I really want this, and I really want to try for it.”
After the graduation of goalkeeper Lexie Galbreath, Knoch coach Rich Kenzie didn't know what to expect from the position in 2014. Stockert won the starting job during camp.
“It was very nerve-racking at the beginning of the year,” Stockert said. “But as I got into it and everything, the girls were very supportive of me, especially the older girls. They helped me along. All the girls are very supportive.”
After Stockert's injury, Kenzie said the coaches discussed potential replacements during practice the day after the Valley match. Three players volunteered, and Gizienski won the job.
“She's really kind of embraced that role, even as a freshman,” Kenzie said. “There were obviously some nerves at first, but she's played pretty fearlessly. She's been aggressive coming out on the ball and making some key saves for us. She's just really stepped up.”
Gizienski, who played goalkeeper growing up but made a transition to defense for school soccer, said she was reluctant to return to the position.
“I liked playing in the field,” she said. “I liked it being different than what I used to play. I played (goalkeeper) in a practice, and they wanted me to play. I gave it a lot of thought through the night, and I thought it would be good for the team. I just really wanted to try it out, and I did. Now I really love it.”
While Gizienski said she was nervous at first, she said she improved throughout the season. She credited the Knoch defense for helping her.
Stockert also helped Gizienski, whom she considers a friend, while sitting out with her injury.
“It was nice that the girls definitely supported me and helped me to get better when I did get back to practices,” Stockert said. “They were very supportive. And it was hard to watch someone else in goal, but I enjoyed watching her play. She was very good.”
Stockert returned last week, helping finish off a 6-4 win over Highlands. She and Gizienski split time in victories over Deer Lakes and Kittanning.
With the playoffs approaching, Kenzie said he wasn't sure what the goalie plan would be. However, he said he planned to keep Gizienski on the varsity team.
“People telling me that I helped this team a lot, that just means so much to me,” Gizienski said. “They're such a skilled team. Just watching them from the back of the net, doing what they do, amazes me. When they mess up or something, they count on me, and I give all I have to keep that. When I do let a goal in, it really bums me (out) because I don't want to. But I can't save all of them.”