Knoch cross country teams step up in class
Don't mistake the Knoch boys and girls cross country teams' youth as a weakness. It's a strength.
“We're pretty young, but we're battle-tested and experienced,” Knoch cross country coach Wess Brahler said. “The strength of our teams is our underclassmen.”
Knoch really doesn't have much of a choice in the matter. Both the Knoch boys (4-7, 3-5) and girls (7-3, 4-4) are considered Class AA teams, but the WPIAL placed them in Section 3-AAA for regular-season competition. The alignment has the Knights competing against larger schools such as Butler, North Hills and North Allegheny. However, come district and state finals meets, the Knights drop down and compete in Class AA.
“We like competing against the top schools, and we're very competitive,” Brahler said. “We're tested and we like our chances.”
If Brahler's runners look like they're running with a chip on their collective shoulders, it's because both the boys and girls teams narrowly missed qualifying for the PIAA finals last season. Both his boys and girls teams have been training since June in anticipation of returning to the WPIAL finals and getting their tickets punched for the PIAA meet in Hershey. The WPIAL finals will be held on Thursday at Cooper's Lake Campground in Slippery Rock.
Both teams have adopted the motto: “Together, Unfinished Business” as a reminder of where they've been and where they want to go.
“We just missed going to states by six points last year,” Brahler said about his boys team. “If we would've run a little harder, we would've been able to squeeze in.”
The boys team is led by two-time state qualifiers in senior Preston Carlsson and junior Brandon Grumski. Junior Nathaniel Pettit and sophomores John Ejzack and Max Freyermuth round out the five-man team.
“Our top five boys are pretty tough,” Brahler said.
Much like the boys, the girls team finished fifth in last season's WPIAL meet.
“For whatever reason, things just didn't click last year,” Brahler said. “We have the talent, but just like anything else, you have to be injury free, confident and everything has to click. Running is a funny animal.”
It's not like his girls haven't been there before. The majority of the squad qualified for states as a team during their freshman year. Junior Mandi Moxie, a two-time state qualifier, is poised to become Knoch's first three-time state qualifier. She also accomplished her personal goal of finishing the 3.1-mile race under 20 minutes by running a 19:51 against Butler. The only personal goal left for Moxie to accomplish this season is to place in the top 10 or 20 in the state.
“I was so happy with tears of joy streaming down my face,” Moxie said about finishing under 20 minutes. “I've been training hard since June for this.”
Moxie's running mates are fellow juniors Abby Jones, Lauren Karenbauer and Mandy Hunt. Two-time state qualifier Ashlyn Carlsson, a senior, brings leadership and experience to a team that came up short a year ago.
“We are focused, we're driven and we like our opportunity coming up,” Brahler said. “We've never taken two teams to state (finals) at once. That would be pretty special if that happened.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.