Knoch boys deal with early-season injury |

Knoch boys deal with early-season injury

Defending Section 1-AAA champion Knoch was expecting three-year starter Matt Zanella to “shoulder” a significant amount of scoring and rebounding this season.

Instead, Zanella is recovering from a shoulder injury, and his return to the lineup is uncertain.

The 6-foot-3 forward averaged nearly 13 points per game last season as the Knights won the section with a 10-2 mark and were 16-5 overall.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that he’ll be back soon,” Knoch coach Ron McNabb said. “We don’t know when our leading scorer and leading rebounder will be back. It’s a big loss for us.”

In Zanella’s absence, McNabb will have to put two sophomores into the lineup quicker than he had hoped.

“They’re working hard,” McNabb said. “Sometimes they played really well, sometimes they played like sophomores.”

Actually, McNabb had to start three sophomores in a scrimmage earlier this week — Austin Hannes, P.J. Gourley and Mac Christy.

“The thing is, the ceiling’s really high for these guys,” McNabb said. “It’s going to take some time, and they’re going to have to be patient with the level of basketball they’re going to have to become accustomed to.”

The Knights will start next weekend at the Plum Classic against Gateway and the host Mustangs.

After that, Knoch will be on the road at Indiana, a former section rival that has been moved out of the mostly local grouping.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Knoch has to start off the Section 1-AAA campaign against Hampton, a longtime rival that was in the WPIAL Class AAAA finals the past two seasons.

“Our early schedule will be challenging,” McNabb said. “Sometimes, I think we’re ready, other times, I don’t know if we could beat a JV team.”

While Gourley and Christy are getting experience in the frontcourt, the promising Hannes will be counted on to bolster the backcourt.

Aiden Albert, who saw plenty of playing time last season as a sophomore, will be counted on more this season.

Troy Hixon and P.J. Mack also will be getting more responsibility.

Jackson McKee, Devin Campbell and Josh Knochel are three sophomores who will be expected to supply depth.

The Knights lost seven seniors last season, all of whom made key contributions.

“They will be very hard to replace,” McNabb said. “They were calm in tough situations. We were blessed last season, and we will be again once these guys get a year or two under their belts.”

McNabb was inducted into the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports and the IUP halls of fame in the offseason.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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