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It’s Carlsbad’s Knudsen for the defense

The best part about playing center back for Riley Knudsen is she’s the last line of defense on the Carlsbad High girls soccer team.

The 5-foot-9 senior takes her assignment very seriously.

“I’m the one the other team has to get past before the goalie,” Knudsen said. “I try to keep everything clean back there, but if I have to foul someone to keep them from scoring, then I will.”

Knudsen is a rare asset on defense with her size and attitude.

She’s tall enough to impose her will on attackers as Lancers’ opponents have discovered during a 3-2 start for Carlsbad heading into today’s nonleague game at home against Westview.

Knudsen came out late for the team because the girls volleyball team went all the way to the State Division I championship game. And she played in one last club tournament with City CS.

“You have to have some grit to do what she does for us,” Carlsbad soccer coach Katie Ritchie said. “It’s definitely a mental position to be one step ahead of the attackers.

“Her job is simply don’t let the other team score goals.”

Now Knudsen, who was designated as a Royal Lancer because she’s in the top 4 percent of her class, belongs to Carlsbad for one final season before she heads off to continue playing soccer at Purdue.

“I’ll need a new safety net at Purdue,” said Knudsen, who has a 5.0 GPA at Carlsbad. “It will be new and a bit strange.”

Knudsen has been going to the Carlsbad gym since she was 2 when dad Tobin was coaching the Lancers’ boys volleyball team.

Living just a five-minute walk from campus, Riley and older brother Zachary, who is now playing volleyball at BYU, jogged over to join dad at practice after school.

“We’d either play handball or pepper with the guys in the gym,” she said. “We just wanted to be entertained instead of having to do homework right after school.”

Because she grew up in the Lancers’ gym, playing volleyball was a natural fit for Knudsen, and it never interfered with soccer.

Volleyball was always just for fun and soccer was her true love. The coronavirus robbed her of her junior season because volleyball got switched to run at the same time as soccer in San Diego.

So, Knudsen gave it one last try and was rewarded with a San Diego Section Division I championship banner as well as a state runner-up banner for the gym she’ll remember fondly.

Carlsbad, which went 24-12, dropped the state championship match to Larkspur Redwood, which rebounded from a bad first set to claim the Giants’ first state crown with a 16-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-20 victory.

“We were all very disappointed with the outcome,” Knudsen said. “It started so well, but we didn’t play our best at all.

“Too many mistakes. We just fell apart.”

Knudsen played libero and outside hitter before moving to middle blocker this season for the Lancers.

A few months from now, she will graduate and leave for the Midwest, ending her close ties to the campus.

“I think change is good,” said Knudsen, who scored a 1,510 on the SAT. “It’s time for me to grow a little bit, figure things out for myself.

“There is a degree of independence in college and I’ve always been an independent person. I’ve done homework on my own and have been making my own lunch since third grade, but it’s scary to think I’ll be an adult soon.”

For a time after her dad stopped coaching at Carlsbad, the family moved to France when she was in fifth grade.

Knudsen played on a club soccer team called Les Genets.

Naturally, she played center back.

Defense has always been her position since the day she started playing competitive soccer.

“They asked if anyone wanted to play on defense and my hand shot up,” Knudsen said. “I played forward and even keeper for a while in rec ball.

“I’ve never been shy about trying new things.”

That goes for soccer and now traveling thousands of miles to major in engineering at Purdue.

“I’ll miss my friends, the beach and my dogs — Radar and Roxy,” she said. “I’ll never get Carlsbad out of my system.”

Monahan is a freelance writer.