AUSTINTOWN — When Abby Knight was 10, she wrote down a big goal.
"It says, ‘When I grow up, I am going to play soccer in college and go pro," the Fitch senior said not long after signing for a scholarship.
She kept the note for motivation. It has paid off.
“I have it hung in my room right now,” Knight said. "All the i’s are lower case — it looks like a little girl wrote it."
Recently, Knight signed with Youngstown State University to play with Fitch graduate Jordan Evans on the women’s soccer team next season.
“Jordan was my mentor; she was like my big sister,” Knight said of her Fitch teammates. “She’s my neighbor, so she would always take me to games, take me to practices.
“Now that I’ve signed, I have a big weight off of my shoulders,” said Knight, the Division I runner-up for the Northeast Inland District player of the year. “That’s been on my mind since my sophomore year, and I don’t have to think about it anymore.”
Brian Shrum, the YSU women’s soccer head coach, praised Knight as “a versatile player that can play in the midfield or wide areas.
“With her work rate and endurance levels, we will most likely ask her to play in the wide area and get forward in the attack,” Shrum said.
“Abby can beat defenders on the dribble and can give good services into dangerous areas. [She] has the work rate to recover back and delay the opponents’ attack.”
In middle school, Knight was inspired by the success of a cousin, Lindsey Rudibaugh, who played women’s soccer for Otterbein College.
“I want to be just like her,” Knight said. “She was kind of like the star. She really sparked my interest to want to play at the next level.”
A four-year letter winner at Fitch, Knight mostly played defensive center-mid for the Falcons.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to score goals, but then I realized that helping my defense protect our goal was a little more important,” Knight said. “If we didn’t get scored on, we’d get the props for it.”
Her older brother Jarrett played for Fitch. Neither of her parents — Bob and Nancy — played soccer. Their background was in gymnastics, and Abby competed as a gymnast for two years.
“When I was very little,” she said, adding, “not my favorite.”
Knight said she was 4 when she first started playing in the Austintown Junior Soccer League.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, just running around and kicking the ball,” Knight said.
At age 8, she joined the Soccer Vision Academy club team and found a home on defense. Greg Mitchell remains her club coach.
“When I came in, we already had all our offensive positions filled,” Knight said. “The coaches said we need someone who can put a body behind the ball and stop the other team from scoring. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do that; it sounds fun.’”
In middle school, Knight ran cross country and track.
“It helped with my endurance,” she said. “I needed to work on my sprints.”
Knight made the varsity team as a freshman in Carlo Traficante’s final season as head coach. She was the only player in her class to be full time on varsity that season.
“I was up for the challenge, but I also was super-duper scared because I was short, skinny,” Knight said. “I was looking at all these girls around me and wondering how I was going to be able to compete with them. But all my teammates encouraged me.
“It was nice having all that support; it really built up my confidence.”
Bill Spencer took over the varsity program her sophomore season when she became a starter.
“[That’s] when I felt as though I was actually needed on the field, so that was nice,” Knight said.
Last summer, she committed to YSU. Lake Erie College (Division II) and Slippery Rock University (Division III) also were interested.
“YSU touched me in ways that those schools didn’t,” Knight said, adding that the challenge of playing Division I in college intrigued her. “I felt very welcome.”
Knight called her senior season “amazing; best I could have ever asked for.
“I’m not really in a position to score that many goals, but this year I scored 11, most I’ve ever scored,” she said.
Knight’s accolades this fall included first team district and All-American Conference Red Tier, and second team all-Ohio.
“She’s one of those players who you just [can’t] replace,” Spencer said of a challenge going forward. “She covered a lot of ground for us.
“We pretty much gave her free rein to do whatever she needed to do to help us out on the attack,” Spencer said. “Good speed, great endurance, a smart player. She was able to cover a lot of area and always found her way back to where she was never caught out of position.”
Knight plans to major in forensic science, but she hasn’t decided between chemistry, biology or anthropology.
“I’m not sure yet which one I want to take,” said Knight, who has a 3.6 grade-point average.
Her favorite subject is not science, but mathematics.
“I’ve always loved math. I like solving problems, little puzzles,” she said.
One of her favorite teachers is Candice Carney, her freshman history teacher.
“Her daughter plays soccer, so we have a lot to talk about,” Knight said. “She’s super encouraging to me.”
What Knight loves about soccer is “the competitiveness, how you can win or lose and learn a lesson either way.”
She feels soccer challenges her.
“Is there something I could have done better? Did I give my all? Usually when you lay it out all on the field, you get the result you want,” she said of her favorite sport.
With graduation looming, Knight said she can’t believe her time at Fitch is almost over.
“They say these four years go quickly. They’re not lying,” she said with a laugh. “I feel like I was a freshman just last year.
“I’m happy it’s my senior year, but then again it’s kind of crazy. After this, it’s reality — it’s adulthood.”
And another goal achieved on that inspirational note from 2011.