Could an underdog mentality benefit the Triad Knights?
Triad (15-5-5) will play Chatham Glenwood (14-4-2) in the championship game of the Class 2A Chatham Glenwood Sectional at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The Titans won the 2A state title last year.
"We're preparing our kids for a very tough game, and the kids know it," Knights coach Matt Bettlach said. "Chatham is the team to beat in 2A in the south. Until someone knocks them out of the tournament, they're the state champs."
The Titans defeated Carbondale 3-2 in the semifinals Tuesday. Bettlach was amazed by the large contingent of fans at the game, and he anticipates more of the same with the championship on the line.
"They had a very nice crowd on a Tuesday night, so I can't imagine what it's going to be like on a Friday night," Bettlach said. "It's going to be something that our kids aren't used to. We pull in a decent crowd, especially when we play the bigger schools, the 3A schools. But I don't think this is going to be anything we've seen before.
"But you know what? I think the kids will probably feed off that type of energy. I think they want to play in front of a crowd. I think it will energize them and maybe work in our favor."
The Knights are seeking their first sectional championship since 2011 when it won the 2A state title by beating Woodstock Marian.
Chatham Glenwood is led by junior forward Kelly Graves, who owns 19 goals after scoring 22 last season.
"She's a great player," Bettlach said. "She's very creative with the ball. She's fast and she can strike the ball from anywhere. That's going to be one of the things for our defenders to keep an eye on: Where's Kelly Graves? If we lose sight of her, she'll take advantage of it, I'm sure."
The Knights' defense is led by seniors Claire Stark and Kyndall Keller, two of the Knights' four holdovers from their state-championship team. Other starting defenders are junior Corinne Petrunich and freshman Morgan Bohnenstiehl.
"We've got experience back there," said Bettlach, who splits the playing time of sophomore goalies Gabby Kayser and Skye Clark. "It keeps them ready, knowing the fact they're each going to get playing time. Playing two goalies, for me, is a luxury. They like it. They're both right on board with it."
Triad is on a nine-game unbeaten string that includes five consecutive wins. The Knights are blessed with an abundance of balance on offense, with goals coming from Meaghan Smith (15), Kailey Duncan (11) and Meredith Wendt (10). Duncan scored the only goal in the Knights' 1-0 win over Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in the semifinals Tuesday.
Four other players, sophomores Allison Wendt (nine) and Brianna Merchant (seven) and juniors Danielle Wilde (seven) and Morgan Mell (seven), also are frequent contributors.
"We are a possession-oriented team," Bettlach said. "If we can play keepaway for 80 minutes and knock the ball into spaces where we want the girls to run onto the ball and be dangerous ... we'll be tough to beat. If we're able to possess and move the ball, it will open up chances for all 10 players."
Bettlach said the Knights aren't interested in packing it in and playing a defensive style, hoping to get to penalty kicks.
"We're playing to win," Bettlach said. "We're not playing to try to get to penalty kicks and take a chance. That's risky. We've never played like that."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.