photo by: Nick Henthorn
WHEELING – The Wheeling Central Catholic Maroon Knights (11-7-6) are voyaging into uncharted waters- but they’re doing so with confidence.
Wheeling Central will take to the YMCA Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, West Virginia for the Class AA/A State Semifinals on Thursday.
It is the first time that Wheeling Central has gotten to this stage, but Maroon Knights head coach
Brian Komorowski doesn’t see his group being too on-edge for their 9:30 a.m. Thursday date.
“I really think they understand the moment,” Komorowski said. “At Central, we have really been blessed with a lot of athletes who have competed at state competition in other sports. Some of them have played in other sports who have gone down to state, who have made it to state tournaments. That’s really helped because they’ve already been there and they understand what that moment is like.
“Those other sports might not be their primary sport but it just leads to everybody being loose. To this point in our preparation, they’ve been a loose group and there’s been nothing but good practices. They’re having fun, they’re enjoying the moment.”
Wheeling Central has been a winning program for the last five-plus years, but this season brought new heights to the Knights, who followed-up a 2-1 sectional victory against Trinity Christian with Central’s first-ever regional crown in a 1-0 overtime victory over Frankfort.
Though they had not been to Beckley before, Komorowski knew this year’s team was capable.
“From the very beginning of the year- I know everybody says “The goal is to make it down there,” but having a pretty strong, senior-driven team, from our first parent-team meeting in July, I said I truly believed we’d be down in Beckley this year,” Komorowski said.
“The team has bought in, even though we’ve battled injuries, we’ve had a lot of different kids starting all year, it’s all worked out for the right reasons. And now everybody has the experience they needed, and they’re a gritty group. If there’s one thing they want to do, they want to compete. They have that desire to compete and win.”
Wheeling Central enters as the No. 4 seed to the state semifinals. No. 2 Charleston Catholic (15-4-4) will face off with No. 3 Lewis County (15-3-4), and the Maroon Knights will play the top seed in the field, No. 1 Point Pleasant (15-3-6).
Point Pleasant has dropped three games all year, twice to out-of-state, one-loss Marietta, and once to Grafton- a team that Wheeling Central beat 2-0 earlier in the year.
On the whole though, the Big Blacks have dominated opponents, recording eight shutouts on the season, and outscoring their last four opponents 23-2.
“They’re a really good team,” Komorowski said. “They’ve played a really good schedule, and they’ve played a few common opponents as us and they’ve done very well in them.
“They’re a skilled team, and they like to press. As soon as we get the ball they’re going to press us, and we know that. They’re going to come at us and we’ve got to stay composed and play our game.”
Mason Schmitt, Joey Barki, Jeremy Ratcliffe and Luke Minor have all scored goals during the Knights’ postseason run, but Komorowski shed some light on how many different players have contributed to Wheeling Central’s recent successes, and how big a part getting healthy at the right time has played.
“He’s only played for a few years, but Isaac Schmitt has been a huge key for us,” Komorowski said. “He’s not the typical soccer player, but man does he give us a spark when he’s on the field. He’s got really good speed, he’s got great energy, and he’s not afraid to go after the ball in dirty areas. He plays the game the right way, and he takes us to another level where now we have depth, we can keep momentum going.”
“Having him healthy, having his brother [Mason] healthy, we just couldn’t ever get healthy. Luke Minor had a knee injury that was bothering him most of the year, T. Ryncarz had shin splints for a portion of the year, it was one thing after another where we just couldn’t get our whole group on the field. Now, at the end of the year, we’re healthy, and everybody’s contributing.”
Wheeling Central will have the opportunity to continue what has been a dramatic playoff run, with the latest chapter coming with a sudden-death overtime score by Mason Schmitt against Frankfort in the regional championship. They will also have the opportunity to represent their school at the center of a stage that Wheeling Central has not been on before.
“It’s been great for the kids,” Komorowski said. “I’ve been around the program for a really long time, we’ve been striving to get to this spot for a really long time. It’s hard, we’re not in our own class, it’s not just a single-A class where other sports have a single-A class. We’re A/AA, we’re playing schools that are much bigger than us.
“We’re competing and we’re doing really well. The kids are enjoying it at school, they’re getting notice at school for a sport that’s not normally on the main stage. The school has really embraced them, embraced their run, and they’re having a lot of fun with it.”
The Knights play Point Pleasant on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the YMCA Youth Sports Complex in Beckley.
Follow us on Facebook : https://web.facebook.com/wacnews
To receive the latest news on your phone using the Telegram application, click here: https://t.me/+KMdLTc0qS6ZkMGI0
Send us a message by Whatsapp : Whatsapp +44 7476844931