picture from: Nick Henthorne
WHEELING – The Wheeling Central Catholic Maroon Knights (11-7-6) are traveling in uncharted waters – but they’re doing it with confidence.
Wheeling Central will travel to the YMCA Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, WV for the Class AA/A state semifinals on Thursday.
This is the first time Wheeling Central has reached this stage, but the Maroon Knights head coach
Brian Komorowski doesn’t think his group is too stressed for their 9:30 a.m. meeting Thursday.
“I really think they understand the moment,” Komorowski said. “At Central, we’ve really been blessed with a lot of athletes who have competed at state meets in other sports. Some of them played in other sports that made it to the state tournaments. It really helped them because they’ve been there before and they understand what that moment is like.
“These other sports may not be their main sport, but they just make everyone lose. Up to this point in our preparation, they were a loose group and there was nothing but good practice. They’re having fun, enjoying the moment.”
Wheeling Central has been a winning program for the past five-plus years, but this season brought new heights to the Knights, who followed a 2-1 sectional win against Trinity Christian with Central’s first-ever regional crown in a 1-0 overtime win over Frankfort .
Even though they hadn’t been to Beckley before, Komorowski knew this year’s team was capable.
“From the start of the year – I know everyone says ‘The goal is to make it there’ but having a pretty strong senior-led team, from our first parent-team meeting in July I said I really believed we were going to be in Beckley this year,” Komorowski said.
“The team came together even though we struggled with injuries, we had a lot of different kids starting all year, it all worked out for the right reasons. And now everyone has the experience they need, and they’re a fierce bunch. If there’s one thing they want to do, they want to compete. They have that desire to compete and win.”
Wheeling Central enters the state semifinals as the No. 4 seed. No. 2 Charleston Catholic (15-4-4) will face No. 3 Lewis County (15-3-4) and the Maroon Knights will play top-seeded No. 1 Point Pleasant (15-3-6).
Point Pleasant lost three games all year, twice to out-of-state Marietta, by one loss, and once to Grafton, a team Wheeling Central defeated 2-0 earlier in the year.
Overall, though, the Big Blacks dominated their opponents, recording a season-high eight shutouts and outscoring their last four opponents 23-2.
“They’re a really good team,” Komorowski said. “They played a really good schedule and played some common opponents like us and did really well in them.
“They are an experienced team and they like to press. As soon as we get the ball, they will press us and we know it. They will come at us and we have to stay calm and play our game.”
Mason Schmitt, Joey Barkey, Jeremy Ratcliffe and Luke Minor scored goals during the Knights’ postseason run, but Komorowski shed some light on how many different players have contributed to Wheeling Central’s recent success, and how much of it is healthy on the right side. played.
“He’s only been playing for a few years, but Isaac Schmidt is a huge key for us,” Komorowski said. “He’s not the typical footballer, but he gives us a spark when he’s on the pitch. He has really good speed, great energy and isn’t afraid to chase the ball in dirty areas. He plays the game the right way and takes us to another level where now we have depth and we can keep the momentum going.”
“To be healthy, to have his brother [Mason] healthy, we just could never get healthy. Luke Minor had a knee injury that bothered him most of the year, T. Rinkartz had shin splints for part 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 are healthy and everyone is contributing.”
Wheeling Central will have the opportunity to continue what has been a dramatic playoff run, with the final chapter coming with a Mason Schmidt sudden-death overtime score against Frankfort in the regional championship. They will also have the opportunity to represent their school downtown on a stage that Wheeling Central has never been on before.
“It was great for the kids,” Komorowski said. “I’ve been around the program for a long time, we’ve been trying to get to this place for a really long time. It’s difficult, we’re not in our own class, it’s not just single A class where other sports have single A class. We are A/AA, we play schools that are much bigger than us.
“We’re competing and doing really well. Kids are enjoying themselves at school, getting attention at school for a sport that isn’t usually on the main stage. The school has really embraced them, embraced their running 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.