Boys soccer team has mixed background for inaugural UIL season
By TAYLOR GRAFFT
You have more than likely heard the phrase “never judge a book by its cover.” The Liberty Hill Panther boys soccer team is no exception to that saying.
In their first official UIL-sanctioned season, the Panthers are already turning heads around the region despite being a first-year program.
The boys have already captured positive results in tournaments, scrimmages, and non-district matches against bigger schools and seasoned programs, now they are looking to continue that success in district and beyond.
But what makes Liberty Hill’s first high school soccer team so successful despite the youth of the program? Perhaps it’s the strong foundation that makes up their roster, which features both veterans of the game and players rediscovering their interest in soccer after several years of absence from the pitch.
Of the 25 players on the Liberty Hill varsity roster, 20 are currently healthy and academically eligible. Of those 20 players, 18 were actively practicing this week and shared how the game of soccer found them.
Senior right midfielder Bo Hanson has played soccer since he was seven years old and participated in the youth soccer systems at Liberty Hill all the way to high school before moving to club teams. A majority of those players on Hanson’s club teams are playing for the Panthers’ varsity team this year.
“I grew up playing soccer,” Hanson said. “Soccer is pretty much my life. I watch it every day and I play a lot. I’m just so glad to have it at Liberty Hill now.“
Senior right back Cameron Ellis started playing soccer competitively at the age of nine and was one of the players that joined the Liberty Hill select soccer team last year when the Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association formed a team in Fall 2014.
“I just love playing soccer and working as a team to achieve a common goal,” Ellis said. “I’m excited to go to playoffs games and hopefully state. We’re definitely more organized and faster than last year as a team.”
Senior goalkeeper Shane Burnett started soccer in the Liberty Hill youth league and continued to work his way through the ranks as he got older. This season will be Burnett’s first full season considering he missed most of last year (the unofficial season) with a broken knee.
“I have been playing with most of the guys on this team for four years now,” Burnett said. “We do have some new guys that didn’t play in the youth league with everyone else, so there’s still a sense of figuring out how each other plays. That’s probably the hardest part.”
Sophomore midfielder Dawson Carroll is the younger brother of teammate and senior midfielder Bryson Carroll. Dawson has been playing soccer since he was around three years old. Both players grew up in Pflugerville and started playing in the youth soccer systems there before moving to Liberty Hill six years ago. Dawson plays for Lonestars, an Austin-based select team. He plays for Lonestars in the fall and spring, but sometimes high school practices and Lonestar practices overlap, he said.
“At times practices overlap so it’s tough homework-wise getting stuff done,” Dawson said. “I practice with the Lonestars about three to four times a week. For Liberty Hill, I practice every day after school.”
“I played soccer in fifth and sixth grade because my friends were playing,” Bryson Carroll said. “When I moved to Liberty Hill I stopped playing because there was no team, but last year I quit basketball and started playing soccer.”
Junior centre-back Carter Jenkins started playing soccer around nine years old and remembers a unique experience from when he first started kicking the ball around.
“When I was around nine I saw my friend playing one time and tried to play with him,” Jenkins said. “I ended up scoring on my friend and thought that it was the best feeling ever.”
Jenkins moved to Liberty Hill last year from Houston near Pearland. He says the transition has gone well and he’s enjoying playing for this team.
“I really like the people on this team,” Jenkins said. “I think with the talent we have we can go pretty far. Coach Bauer is a great coach that really knows the game of soccer so he’ll take us far.”
Freshman Izaac Zausch, brother of teammate and senior Zach Zausch plays right back for the Panthers. Izaac started playing when he was three-years-old and hasn’t stopped playing since then. Both Izaac and Zach moved from Riverside, California almost a year ago. It was there that the two boys played soccer in an academy. The transition has been smooth for Izaac and he’s looking forward to his first season.
“The team is looking really good right now,” Izaac said. “It’s exciting because we’re in our first year as a team. It’s just exciting to be a part of that.”
Zach started playing soccer when he was five years old and he says it was the first sport he played. Zach first joined a select team when he was 10 and played at the same academy as his younger brother, but in different divisions because of their age difference.
Senior Lucas Rizzotto has played soccer since he was three years old when he played for select teams in Cedar Park. When Rizzotto moved to Liberty Hill he met a majority of his present teammates in the youth leagues. Rizzotto also played on the select soccer team Lonestar in Austin. Rizzotto was a key player for the Panthers last season in their unofficial first year. Rizzotto says he’s excited about competing for real this time around.
“We can finally get our name out there,” Rizzotto said. “People can see the talent we have on this roster. We have a lot of young kids on the team so it’ll be interesting to see where this program will be a couple of years from now. I’ll be able to come back in a few years and see how much they’ve progressed as a program since I was here.”
Freshman Bryce Stratton started kicking a soccer ball when he was six years old. He says he started out playing in the youth leagues and in YMCA leagues, before his father moved him up to playing select for teams like the Force. Stratton is excited about playing high school soccer for the first time in his life.
“I think this team has a lot of skill,” Stratton said. “We are trying to make it to state and I think we’ll get there pretty soon.”
Senior Omar Perez is eager to leave his mark on the Liberty Hill program and wants to help build the program to a bright future.
“I started playing soccer when I was three years old,” Perez said. “I also played for East Austin Soccer Club. Since it’s my last year at Liberty Hill I want to make it a good year. Not just for myself, but for the whole team and program.”
Perez doesn’t know if he’ll play soccer in college following graduation, but he does plan on playing for adult soccer leagues.
Sophomore Jack Brewer got into soccer after watching his cousin play one afternoon. He then started kicking a soccer ball around the age of five. Brewer continued playing in youth leagues and select leagues all the way to high school. Now Brewer plays for Liberty Hill as well as club soccer for Lonestar in Austin.
“Bauer is probably one of the better coaches I’ve had,” Brewer said. “He’s taught us a lot of tactically things like movement off the ball and how to play the forward position.”
Freshman Angel Viera’s father is the person that got him interested in playing soccer at a young age. He was around six years old when he first joined a youth team in Liberty Hill.
“It’s fun being around these guys and competing at a high level,” Viera said. Viera is learning a new position as a right midfielder. When he was young he played forward, but he says he enjoys playing right midfield now.
Sophomore Slade Cummings played soccer in a community in California around the age of five. He hasn’t played in any select or club teams, but still enjoys playing in community leagues with friends. He arrived in Liberty Hill about six years ago and has played soccer since then.
His older brother, who is a senior, Grant, also plays for the Panthers as a central defender.
“Playing with my brother makes it fun,” Grant said. “We try to keep it serious, but we’ll mess around from time to time.”
Senior Joey Kipfer started in the youth soccer system for Liberty Hill around the age of eight. Kipfer played soccer all through junior high, but stopped to focus on football (and since Liberty Hill didn’t have a team yet) once he got to high school. When Liberty Hill got a soccer team last year, Kipfer was excited to have a chance to play the sport again.
Junior forward Felix Rusch is an exchange student from Germany and started playing soccer at the age of four because it was the national sport in Germany. In Germany there are no school soccer teams, instead the kids participate on club teams only. His favorite German club team is Bayern Munich. Rusch says that American soccer is a lot different than German soccer because there’s a lot more fitness and better equipment.
“This is my first year playing as a forward,” Rusch said. “I usually played as a defender, but it’s of course a great feeling when you score a goal.”
Senior co-captain and left midfielder Kale Sudderth…The chemistry between Sudderth and Bryson Carroll really helps the Panthers when attacking down the left flank because the two have been best friends on and off the pitch.
“I started playing when I was three like every other little kid,” Sudderth said. “I played on the Lonestar select team in Austin.”
Like his friend Bryson, Kale was excited that Liberty Hill added a soccer team last year, so he also quit basketball last year and signed up to play in the unofficial season.