Young talent brings success to team
Running toward the goal during Gannon University’s 4-0 win over Edinboro University, Mani Brueckner felt a gust envelope her from behind.
On the other side entered Sammy Valloud streaking down the field.
Having competed against Valloud’s McDowell team while at Mars High School, Brueckner realized the irony.
“When she flew past the defenders, I just thought, ‘I’m really glad she’s on my team now and I don’t have to play against her anymore.’” Brueckner said.
The feeling is mutual for coach Colin Petersen, who has his Knights sitting with a 7-1 overall record as the No. 24 team in the latest Division II NSCAA Coaches poll, released Tuesday.
Coming off shutout wins over Edinboro and Mansfield universities Saturday, the Knights have now blanked every opponent but one this season. That game — East Stroudsburg University — represents the only blemish for the Knights, who are outscoring their opponents by a gaudy 22-3 margin.
This level of domination comes less than five months after the graduation of all-time leading scorer Amanda Sharbaugh.
In her place, a total of 12 freshmen now scatter Gannon’s roster, but it is Brueckner along with Erie natives Valloud and Kaitlyn Kissell who have found a niche as Gannon’s main scoring threats.
The twist: all three are freshmen who never as much took the same field as Sharbaugh.
“The frustrating part of coaching in college is that you realize every year that you’re going to lose part of your team and you don’t know what the team is going to be like year to year,” Petersen said. “I expected them to take this year to come and get used to the college game and the pace, but they’ve done a phenomenal job fitting in.”
Despite their inexperience on the field together, success is not new to these freshmen—nor are each other.
Last November, Kissell’s Villa Maria team met up with Brueckner’s undefeated Mars squad in the state playoffs. Mars crushed the Victors 8-0 en route to a runners-up finish.
Similarly, Valloud was captain for McDowell, a perennial AAA contender in District 10.
The list of superlatives is impressive for the teenage trio: Valloud leads the team with eight goals, while Kissell and Brueckner sit just behind with four and three, respectively.
But the Knights’ offensive identity wasn’t always clear.
“It was definitely a mystery to begin the season,” said Valloud, who also played club soccer with Kissell. “Colin said that everyone had to earn their spot and that it was up to us to prove ourselves.”
On Monday, Bruckner was named PSAC West Player of the week after she scored a pair of goals and dished out three assists to increase her conference-leading total to eight.
The honor was validation for Brueckner, who began the season as a midfielder. It wasn’t until she returned to her natural forward position against Bloomsburg University that she found the back of the net for the first time.
“I wasn’t as successful as a midfielder,” she said. “Playing under the lights, it gets your adrenaline going, and even before the game, I felt (Kissell and Valloud) had both stepped up their game and now it was my turn. I had to do what I was recruited for.”
Brueckner has since scored in each game but the loss and is just one assist short of Gannon’s single-season record in orchestrating the new and improved equal-opportunity offense.
“For the first time, we can thoroughly prepare for a team by playing 11-on-11 because we aren’t relying on just one player,” Petersen said.
The burden of picking up the slack offensively in the post-Sharbaugh era has also been mitigated thanks to the Knights’ stifling defense that has given up just three goals the entire season.
The Knights are now just one shutout within tying the school record for a season, despite being without starting goalie Sarah Geffel. She missed Saturday’s game against Mansfield due to personal reasons, but the Knights didn’t miss a beat without her—fifth-year senior Maggie Brinkman made four saves in her first action of the season after tearing her ACL in February.
“We definitely came into the season with the mentality to show them what it’s like to play for Gannon soccer,” Brinkman said. “With our team being so young, we made it a point to that every game is important and we don’t take any one lightly.”
But the Knights will have to continue to beat the odds, as they play without injured starters Erin Resosky (concussion) and Anna Colaizzo (knee) who are out for an indefinite period of time.
This, with the heart of the PSAC schedule looming, beginning with Millersville and West Chester universities this weekend.
With Friday’s game marking the halfway point of the regular season, the Knights are on pace to win more games than any other previous Gannon team.
But as these Knights have shown, they aren’t strangers to surprises.
“Whenever you lose players like Amanda Sharbaugh and Katie Urban, it’s going to have a big impact,” Petersen said. “It’s kind of funny though to see the player who you don’t know is going to come and step out of the shadow.”
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