When Academy Park head coach Susan Reutter talked about her team before the season started, she brought up the Knights’ biggest issue from a year ago as something she hoped that AP could improve upon this year: finding the back of the cage.
“We didn’t score a ton of goals last year,” Reutter said.
And the Knights haven’t scored many this year in the early going, either. Through their first six games (1-5-0), they’ve only been able to tally three times, and they’ve been shut out in four of the past five games, including three straight. But luckily for Reutter, there are pieces for her to work with.
“Nicole Dominick is a junior forward that we’re expecting a lot from,” Reutter said. “She’s our leading returning scorer, she’s good on the ball and she’s a good finisher. We expect her to score more goals.”
Dominick has two of AP’s three goals, and she’ll need to add to that total if the Knights want to get off their five-game losing streak. She’ll get help from senior right wing Val Kretenko, who leads the team with three points, all assists.
“Val’s a great ball handler, and her and Nicole work well together,” Reutter said. “She does a lot of the grunt work getting the ball up the field. She’s inside on a four-person front line, so she should be able to do big things.
Defensively, Reutter knows that she can count on Haley O’Donnell to lock things down. There’s some uncertainty on the back line in front of a new goalie in Darriel Bennett, but O’Donnell is the one entrusted with the biggest matchups.
“She’s a beast,” Reutter said of O’Donnell. “Not much get past her. She’s playing defense, but we expect her to have an offensive role, too. She has really good potential.”
Bennett has been busy in the early going for the Knights, but she’s stepped up admirably in her first varsity season. She’s stopped 62 of the 79 shots fired her way (78.4 percent) and boasts a goals against average of 2.83.
“She’s extremely athletic and very aggressive,” Reutter said. “Those are definitely qualities you want in a goalie.”
With Penn Wood dropping out of the league this year, the Del Val is left with only three teams in the Knights, Interboro and Chichester. The Bucs jumped out to an early advantage with a 2-0 win over the two-time defending champion Eagles and a 1-0 whitewashing of AP, but because each team plays the other three times, one early loss isn’t the end of the world. That still means that Reutter will need someone to have a breakout year, and she thinks she can get one out of center-mid Gabby Lee.
“She has good speed and endurance, and she can do a little bit of everything for us,” Reutter said. “She’s very natural in positioning. At center-mid, it can sometimes be hard to be in the right spot, but she just naturally ends up in the right spot.”
For the Knights, the right spot will end up being in first place with a Del Val title to their name. Reutter knows that AP has its work cut out if it wants to take out Chi and Interboro, but the potential is there, and she likes what she has at her disposal.
“I always like our chances,” she said. “I feel like with the three of us, anybody can beat the other on any given day.”
– MATT CHANDIK