Knights team savors sterling

Thanks to a scorching hot start, a healthy dose of camaraderie and plenty of momentum, the Knights are experiencing one of the most successful seasons in their short history. As they entered play Nov. 3, they had two games remaining in the 2006 regular season and owned a 10-7-1 record. They were 5-4 in Western League games.

Perhaps more importantly, they had improved significantly on their .500 record from a year ago and found themselves in good position entering the CIF-San Diego Section playoffs.

The pairings for the Division II playoffs were to be drawn by the section Thursday, Nov. 9.

“I think the key is that the girls started out the season really strong,” Bishop’s Coach Kristin Davidson said. “From Day 1, they played really well together. There wasn’t an adjustment period. They just came out really naturally and were ready to trust each other and take risks.”

That connection showed.

“They were passing really well,” said Davidson, “and their short corners were great. It all came together really early. They kind of had that early taste of success, and they loved it.”

The fact that the Knights have played so well took Davidson somewhat by surprise, though looking back on it, she said she should have known the team was preparing to get off to a running start.

Many of her players played together either at camps or on offseason teams during the summer, and with a longer than usual time allotted for preseason practice before school and games began, they had plenty of time to not only come together as a team but to implement many of the things they had acquired during their time away.

“We brought the skills we had learned in camps to the preseason, and we had a long time to work on them together,” senior defender Winnie Eastwood said. “We had more time to get to know each other and adapt to each others’ differences. (Winning early) sparked everyone’s adrenaline and momentum. Last year, we didn’t do as well, so it was kind of a surprise to win early. We loved that feeling and wanted to keep it going.”

Bishop’s has at times seemed unbeatable this season. The Knights have pieced together winning streaks of five and six games, first Sept. 15-29 and later Oct. 11-28. Their longest losing streak of the season has been three games, and perhaps most impressive is how handily they have been beating teams.

A glance at their season log shows victories by scores like 7-0, 6-0 and 6-1, and in their 11 wins, they have never allowed more than one goal.

Much of the Knights’ success can be attributed to the play of junior goalie Sarah Shults, who has recorded six shutouts and has generally played an improved game in her second year on the varsity team.

Davidson said Shults’ improvement has had a lot to do with confidence.

While Davidson said she truly has been impressed with the overall play of the team - specifically noting the synergy displayed between the defenders, midfielders and forwards - there have been a core group of players who have largely contributed to the team’s success.

Along with Eastwood on defense, that group also includes senior defender Erin Ryan and senior midfielders Daryl Griglak and Erin Ryan. The team graduated just three seniors last year, and that continuity and experience gained has clearly benefited the Knights.

“We have a better, stronger variety of players than we have in the past,” Davidson said. “We have some really great defenders, some amazing midfielders and some strong forwards. In the past, we might have had one or two key players who tended to play midfield, but this year, we have much more depth as far as who we can rely on in the field.”

Given that, the Knights hope to capitalize on their opportunity. Last year, they won their first playoff game but were knocked out in the next. They hope to travel deeper into the postseason this time around.

Serra High School and San Pasqual could be the favorites in the division.

“I think the players believe in themselves and they know that this is something attainable, so they’re willing to work even harder,” Davidson said. “It’s not surprising to them. They understand they’re playing well together, and they’re willing to put in the effort to maintain that.”