Opinion: Two Knipps better than one
This fall, Basehor-Linwood High School soccer coach Kevin Vincent absolutely loved having a player like Austin Knipp on his team.
So you can imagine how thrilled he is to have two Knipp's on his girls team this spring.
That's not to say the top two players on Vincent's Lady Bobcats will combine to score more than 200 goals in their careers, but juniors Shanna Couch and Jessica Smith both show enough flashes of Knipp's brilliance to raise at least one of Vincent's eyebrows.
"I've never really thought of how they compare to each other in the same aspect," Vincent said. "But I have thought of them the same in that I was really happy to have Austin on my team and I'm really happy to have Jessica and Shanna on my team, too."
Who wouldn't be? The two juniors make watching BLHS girls soccer more than a little enjoyable -- much the way Knipp did during his four years with the boys.
Although neither girl claimed to bear much likeness to Knipp, both admitted that they watched his every move during the Bobcats' magical season this fall. That admission alone provides a little insight into the way each girl plays the game.
"Shanna eats, breathes and sleeps soccer," said Vincent of the daughter of a coach, who began playing the game at 4 years old. "Jessica's more of the quiet soccer fanatic but when she's out there, she's relentless."
Both are traits the duo shares with Knipp. In fact, put the two together -- Couch's mental game and flashy ball skills with Smith's knack for finishing around the net -- and you get a player constructed from the same mold as Knipp.
Don't believe me, head out to the field to watch sometime. Better yet, don't take my word for it. Take Knipp's.
"She's a scorer just like I am," Knipp said of Smith. "She's so skilled with the ball and she finds a way to use her speed to get ahead of people to score. And, mentally, Shanna's probably the toughest player I've ever seen. They're both good players who are fun to watch."
But they're so much more than that. With 21 goals through 13 games, Smith is in the Top 10 in the Kansas City area in scoring.
"For girls, that's unheard of," Vincent said. "Jessica has that great balance of speed, skill and desire. When she gets the ball around the net, she's just so determined to do whatever it takes to finish it."
While Smith is the part of Knipp that puts the ball in the back of the net, Couch is the part that sets those goals up. At times throughout his career, Knipp seemed just as happy to set up his teammates as he was to score a goal of his own. Couch plays with that kind of mindset.
"She's always got an idea what she's going to do with the ball -- before she gets it," Vincent said. "She's got that three-steps-ahead mentality."
And they both have the same killer instinct that Knipp had. They're not content with just having a good season. They want to do more. They want to blaze trails and make memories. Maybe they won't reach 100 goals in their careers -- although Smith is shooting for Knipp's school record of 32 goals in a season. But they're hoping to do something Knipp never did. They want to get to the state semifinals and beyond.
"That's how we can get him," Couch told Smith with a laugh. "That's how we'll do it."