The girls soccer team at Knightdale High School has grown accustomed to looking at its conference foes from near the top of the league standings.
Playoff bids are almost routine. With the exception of this year’s league favorite West Johnston, the Knights enter most of their Greater Neuse River Conference games as the favorite.
But one set of wins has consistently eluded the Knights. Knightdale’s early season schedule is filled with Cap-8 teams. That league is one of the strongest in the state and second-year coach Collin Dalton’s Knightdale squad has yet to notch a win against a Cap-8 team.
“It’s always my hope to come in each season and change a tradition,” Dalton said. “Our goal is to be competitve in the non-conference games and let’s look to pick up a win.”
The Knights fell short in their season opener Thursday night against Cap-8 foe Sanderson, dropping a 7-0 decision, but several more chances loom ahead on the schedule before Knightdale begins conference play.
Being competitive this season is going to mean replacing at least one key figure in keeper Megan Champion, who graduated last year after just one season in the net. Dalton is working two players at the position right now and says they will likely both see playing time early in the season to get some game experience.
Senior Chelsea Jones is playing for the first time. She’s a volleyball player with size and strong athletic skills Dalton says will serve her well in goal. She’s battling Stephanie Lion-Perez, a junior who played keeper last season on the junior varsity. “Where Chelsea has a size advantage, Stephanie has the experience advantage,” Dalton said.
If there are questions on the defensive side for the Knights, there’s little doubt about the potency of the Knightdale offense.
Senior Carly Mounts, junior Liz Snotherly and sophomore Tori Leech return along the front line and hope to reprise some of the success they enjoyed last season. Leech finished with eight goals last year, while Snotherly and Mounts both notched four scores each. Gone, though, is last year’s leading scorer, Brittany LaRussa, who graduated.
Dalton said those three players, along with freshman Taylor Ward and junior Morgan Wiggs, in midfield, will bear the brunt of the offense this season.
“We’re looking to be more accurate and more effective in front of the goal,” he said. “We’ve got players that could come alive.”
Mounts was an offensive power as a sophomore, but struggled through injuries last season.
“If we can get her back to where she was that season, I’d be happy,” Dalton said.
Ward, who Dalton projects as a full-time starter, is going to be a key figure too.
“She’s one of those players every coach loves to have. She has a lot of club experience,” he said. The key for Ward will be how she adjusts to playing bigger players. “You’re talking about going from U-15 to U-18. She’s going to have to deal with the size and strength of some of the players she’s going to be playing against.”
The conference season is still a few weeks away, but Dalton said his players – especially his seniors – have one big goal in mind.
“Everyone’s going to be out to get West Johnston because of what they’ve been able to do. Our upperclassmen understand that and it’s a goal of theirs, too,” Dalton said. “We also can’t forget about the Claytons and the Garners.”