James ‘key player’ in varsity soccer

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Sophomore Kendal James (#2) controls the ball against Lampasas earlier this season. James, a late varsity call-up from the JV team, has 12 points, four goals, and four assists for the varsity squad thus far. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

Sophomore Kendal James (#2) controls the ball against Lampasas earlier this season. James, a late varsity call-up from the JV team, has 12 points, four goals, and four assists for the varsity squad thus far.
(Shannon Hofmann Photo)

By Mike Schoeffel

Sophomore Kendal James wasn’t expecting a promotion to the Liberty Hill girls varsity soccer team, but with the regular season winding down and the Panthers poised to win the District 25-4A title, James finds herself at the latter end of a progression that has transformed her from an accomplished JV player with no varsity experience to what head coach Darren Bauer called “one of our key players.”

The proof is in the stat book. In 11 games this season, James, a midfielder/forward, has tallied 12 points, four goals, and four assists.

Not bad for a girl who was half-anticipating her varsity debut to come as a junior.

“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “The most gratifying moment so far has been the positive feedback from Coach Bauer and the upperclassmen.”

Though James may not have foreseen a varsity call-up, Bauer offers a different perspective. As he put it, he and the rest of the coaching staff have known that James was a player “right on the edge of the varsity team” for a while now.

“Kendal was already on our radar when she was performing well in practice and JV games,” said the coach. “It was an easy selection to bring her up and see what she could do.”

All in all, she hasn’t disappointed.

James was promoted from the JV squad in mid-January because of injuries and subpar results at the varsity level early in pre-district play, according to Bauer. She said it was an “awesome surprise” when Bauer handed her a black shirt, signifying her status as a newly-minted member of the varsity team.

James made her varsity debut against Pleasanton in the Eagle Classic in Salado on Jan. 21, tallying one assist. At the time, the Panthers were 1-5 and coming off a 1-0 loss to Wimberley the day before.

Liberty Hill defeated Pleasanton, 7-0, that day. The Panthers haven’t looked back since, going 10-2 over the last month and a half, losing only one district game — 1-0 to Burnet on Jan. 31 — and positioning themselves for the top seed out of the district.

James has reached some milestones along the way. She scored her first varsity goal in her second game: an 11-0 win over Gateway College Preparatory on Jan. 24.

She’s learned some lessons, too — lessons that will serve her well as she continues to progress within the coming years from a wide-eyed 10th grader to a bona fide team leader.

“The biggest lesson I have learned so far is that in order to make contributions to the team, I have to be consistent and patient on the ball,” she said. “All of the girls have been really helpful in teaching me how to make runs to the goal and how to get open so I’m a better passing option throughout the game.”

Bauer praised James’ coachability, saying she “always wants to know where to improve.”

And improve she has: so much, in fact, that Bauer believes she’s perhaps already shed her “newcomer” label on the varsity.

“I think the older players took her under their wing at first, especially after seeing how hard she goes for being such a small-framed player,” Bauer said, “but now, she is one of them. She has proven to them and everyone else that she belongs on the field with them.”

The Panthers have two regular season district games remaining — at Gateway College Preparatory on March 10 and at Little River Academy on March 14 — before diving head first into the Class 4A playoff bracket.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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