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Knights girls soccer: Ava Bynes, a junior at San Marcos High, controls the ball for the Knights against a Westview defender earlier this year.
Ava Bynes, a junior at San Marcos High, controls the ball for the Knights against a Westview defender earlier this year. Photo by Christine Franey
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Knights girls soccer team in the hunt for conference, state titles

SAN MARCOS — The San Marcos Knights’ varsity girls soccer team continues its success on the pitch with an opportunity to not only win the team’s division but also make a run towards a state CIF championship. 

The Knights (15-5-3) are currently set to play Point Loma (11-4-4) at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 25, in the Palomar Conference Open Division championship game. Regardless of whether they win tonight’s matchup against the Pointers, the Knights have already qualified for the state CIF tournament in August, according to coach Daniel McKell.

McKell, now in his 7th season coaching the Knights, said this is the most successful team he’s ever led to the league playoffs. After the loss of 14 players from the previous season (including 12 seniors), McKell said coaching staff initially viewed this season as a rebuilding year, making the team’s success more impressive.

“This year we deemed as a rebuilding year, but it turned out to be much more than that, we became galvanized and together as a team, and it really clicked with the addition of some new freshman players just in bringing a different level of sensation and energy, sparking that excitement that’s propelled us forward,” said McKell. 

Never before have the Knights made it to the division championship round. And this year, they’ve done it in a historic fashion, defeating several teams the varsity girls team had never beaten before, including the Steele Canyon Cougars and Torrey Pines Falcons.

Last Friday, San Marcos defeated the West View Wolverines — a team the Knights had lost to earlier in the season — to make the championship round. The team’s ability to thrive in the midst of adversity and improve after tough losses have made this year’s team so successful, according to McKell. 

The San Marcos Knights girls soccer team will play against Point Loma tonight in the Palomar Conference Open Division championship game. Photo by Christine Franey
The San Marcos Knights will play against Point Loma tonight in the Palomar Conference Open Division championship game. Photo by Christine Franey

“It’s strange because while no one likes to lose, it’s been abnormal in that in some of our losses this year we’ve really grown,” McKell said. “…With every disappointment, every loss, we’ve found a way to bounce back, just with every adversity it’s been like any other teams I’ve had, these girls have clinched their fists and gone back out there 10 times better, that’s been the difference for this team is just that ability to recalibrate and go out and conquer.” 

Madison Paolini, a senior and team captain, shared her coach’s sentiments, expressing that the team has proved to be remarkably resilient even through challenging stretches of the season, propelling the Knights towards the opportunity now in front of them. 

“The team has definitely gone through a lot together, we’ve experienced a lot, had losses and wins for a time very up and down,” Paolini said.  “We did go through a period where we had a really hard time, a four-game slump…but in the end, we were able to pull it off work really hard for our coaches and everyone who has supported us.”

Preston Bynes, whose daughter Ava (a junior) plays middle forward for the Knights, said the parents are watching with amazement and excitement as San Marcos makes its run into the CIF tournament. 

“These girls are exciting to watch, this really is a huge accomplishment,” Bynes said, who added this year’s team has been particularly close-knit, with many of the girls living in the same neighborhood and having known each other since middle school.

The high level of comradery on the squad has extended over to the parents, who have developed a community of their own in cheering on the Knights this season, Bynes added. 

“You definitely feel the community with this team…you have parents meeting up together before the games, parents getting into it during the games and it’s just pretty special that way, everybody hangs out and talks before and after the game,” Bynes said. 

Leading the Knights’ offense is Paolini, team captain Taylor Rzewuski, as well as junior Gabriella Pyrch, who has been the team’s leading scorer this season, with 14 goals and 5 assists on the year, according to McKell. 

“[Pyrch] has been a steady rock for us, scoring and giving assists…just an amazing teammate that everyone loves, and it’s been really fun to have her and see her excel this year,” the coach said. 

Additionally, McKell added the team has received an unexpected boost from several freshman players, including Madison’s younger sister Ava Paolini, who has earned a starting spot as a center back on the varsity team this year.

Madison said it’s been a blessing to be able to play with her sister, whom she said has been one of the key players in the Knight’s successful run down the stretch. 

“It’s the first and maybe the only time I’ll get to be playing on the same team as my sister, and just having her come into a team full of juniors and seniors and become the starting center-back in a solid part of the defense has been really amazing to see…I’m really proud of her and so thankful that we get to play right next to each other on the field, we always have each other’s backs and we do it for each other too,” Madison said. 

Going into the game against Point Loma, Madison said the teams’ confidence and belief in each other has never been higher. 

“The mentality these last two games going into it we’ve been very confident in ourselves and our ability, and just with our mindset…we know our worth and how amazing we can play to our best as a team,” Madison said.

Tonight’s game will be live-streamed with a paid subscription to NFHS Network.