By Joseph Garcia
He just wrapped up his sophomore season on the Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers’ varsity basketball team and will return next season as the program’s most seasoned veteran.
Much is expected of young Callen Mikulencak, who at 16 years old has already experienced more than most varsity players do in a career. After receiving regular playing time on last season’s team that made it to the regional final, the standout sophomore began this year as a starter and moved into a sixth-man role to bring a spark off the bench for Coach Barry Boren and the Runnin’ Panthers.
For his outstanding contributions, the big guard with tight handles, excellent court vision and a smooth shot was named the 2012-13 District 8-3A Newcomer of the Year.
“I am very (much) honored to get this award,” said Mikulencak. “Having said that, I am going to use (the award) to motivate me in this upcoming season.”
Coach Boren said he often has to remind himself that Mikulencak is just a sophomore because so much is expected of him.
“Yes, he has made mistakes that go with being a young player; however, he has also handled himself in very crucial situations,” said Boren. “He is a big, strong guard who can handle the ball, play defense, get to the basket and shoot inside and out. That makes him a versatile and ‘special’ player.”
Mikulencak, whose other hobbies include hunting and fishing, has lived in Liberty Hill for the past nine years and enjoys playing basketball in the Panthers’ program because of its great support system that stems from the coaches. He accepted his role gracefully this season after senior Jadon Durity-Boatright was named the starter.
“There has always been a good atmosphere of players and coaches around me who really motivate me,” the fledgling, yet experienced guard said. “I feel that my best assets are being able to look up the court and find open players around me. I think court vision is a huge part of my game and was my role on this year’s team.”
Boren said Mikulencak ended the season on a very “positive note” after initially beginning the year as a starter, before defensive specialist and veteran Durity-Boatright got the nod.
“I felt we needed his spark coming off the bench, so he changed his role,” Boren explained. “Then, after our Burnet loss, I reinserted him into the starting lineup. He did what he was supposed to do: allow himself to be coached.”
Last season, Mikulencak was the up-and-coming freshman guard who played some nice minutes on a deep bench. He said the ride he experienced as a freshman en route to the regional championship game was the coolest, most memorable event in his life to date.
While the Runnin’ Panthers fell in overtime, it was an experience of a lifetime and one that cannot be undervalued as his basketball career evolves.
“Going (to the regional finals) my freshman year was already phenomenal,” he said. “And when I went in (the game) and was surrounded by lots of people in the arena, it was an adrenaline rush. Even though we lost, I was surrounded with great players who taught me a lot.”
The Austin-born baller, whose favorite athlete of all time is Michael Jordan for his evolution of the game, thought this season was pretty good as the team met a few of their goals, including winning 30 games and becoming district champs.
He also feels that while they were prepared for the playoff matchup with a strong Burkburnett team, there were certain things he and the other Runnin’ Panthers could not control.
“We had Shane LaCaille and Blake Danielak returning as key players from last year, who were our leading scorers,” he said. “We learned to play much better than we expected. The game against Burkburnett was tough. They were athletic, pushed the ball really well up the court and simply just had a better game than us. I thought they were well coached and the athleticism of some of their players made it very hard to guard them.”
Mikulencak averaged 4.4 points throughout district, with his top game coming Jan. 25 against Brownwood when he scored 11. And while he did not score in major point production, he was always timely with his buckets and always seemed to find the open man.
He was also fearless in the manner in which he went about his business, according to Boren, who along with Blake Boren have been grooming Mikulencak to take over and drive the sports car that is the Runnin’ Panthers’ team next season.
“This lends itself to the future when he will be more of ‘the man’,” Boren said. “Make no mistake about it, he has been/is being groomed to take over the helm as a leading player in our system. We have talked about it, so he knows it. He is not afraid of the task ahead and I fully expect him to continue working as he has done.”
Mikulencak will be a junior next year and will boast the most varsity experience having two years under his belt. He, along with seniors Tristan Heidelberg and Austin Boliek, will be the leaders of the varsity team in 2013-14.
The 8-3A Newcomer of the Year has grown up fast and will take the lead having logged the most minutes on the court for the Liberty Hill varsity team.
But while the Runnin’ Panthers will be a young squad next season, Mikulencak is not settling for anything less than they did this season – a championship title and many, many wins. He also does not take his leadership role lightly.
“This coming season is going to be tough, but also exciting because we haven’t had this young of talent in a while,” Mikulencak said. “This next season, to lead such a young team, I hope to keep our 30-win season (streak going), become district champions and take each playoff game one step at a time if we get that far.”