By LANCE CATCHINGS
The varsity girls’ soccer team has jumped out to a perfect start to the 2017-18 season. The Lady Panthers competed in the CenTex Tournament in Killeen from Jan. 5-6 and went a perfect 4-0 en route to winning the tournament championship. Brooke Briscoe, Kyla Boliek and Madi Fuller were selected to the CenTex All-Tournament Team for their performances.
“Overall, after the two scrimmages we had, the girls definitely stepped up,” said Head Coach Darren Bauer. “They improved upon the things we have been focused on, which was our possession and defense. It got better with each game of the tournament. It showed in the way we wore teams down and possessed the ball. We created a lot of opportunities, which is good. They have definitely taken steps in the directions that we need to go.”
The Lady Panthers held a 3-0 lead at halftime in their first game against Shoemaker and added four more goals in the second half to take a commanding 7-0 win over Shoemaker. Briscoe had three goals and three assists to lead the team. Fuller, Abigail Janicek and Piper Tabor each scored a goal in the win, as well, and Elizabeth Perez and Haylie Cassady each had an assist in the game.
“We came out and had some jitters, but once we settled down, we moved the ball around pretty well before we got the first goal,” Bauer said. “Once we got the first goal, we settled in and took control of the whole game.”
In their second game of the tournament, senior Brianna Stark scored the game-winning goal on an assist from Boliek in the first half of a 1-0 win over Salado.
“Salado was a good test for us,” Bauer said. “They are a quality 4A team, so it was good for us to show up against them. Even though the score was only 1-0, I feel like we dominated most of the game. We did not give them many opportunities to score, and it was an improvement on the game before. It turned into a dominant performance and gave us an idea of where we’re at in our division. Hopefully, we can keep moving forward.”
Next, the Lady Panthers faced Hyde Park. Boliek, Briscoe and Kendal James each had a goal in their 3-0 win. Boliek and Bryden Bourgeios each had an assist for the Lady Panthers, as well.
“We possessed in that game so well that the other team didn’t want to move after a while,” Bauer said. “They didn’t have much energy left to attack, and that is our game plan. Play simple soccer and wear the other team down to create our opportunities.”
Briscoe scored her fifth goal of the tournament in the first half of the championship game to help lead Liberty Hill to a 1-0 victory over Harker Heights.
“Beating a bigger and better 6A school was good for us,” Bauer said. “They were more athletic and faster than us, but we played simple possession soccer and wore them down. We got our one opportunity we needed and capitalized on it. We created more opportunities, but we just had tired legs. We didn’t quite finish the opportunities like we did in the other games, but overall, it was a great success.”
Bauer is excited about the confidence he sees building in his young team and believes this is only the beginning.
“I definitely have the seen the girls’ confidence improving since the first scrimmage,” he said. “The girls keep getting better, and their confidence is growing. For some of them to get on the score sheet for the first time on varsity was great. It was good for them to get some games under their belt playing with each other. The biggest challenge with this team is not just the inexperience, but a lot of these girls have never played together. The CenTex Tournament helped out with that, and they can see how we will be effective.”
For many of the freshmen on the roster, there will be an adjustment period during the first few games, but Bauer believes they have handled it well so far.
“The physicality of the game is going to be the biggest challenge for our freshmen,” he said. “They will be playing against girls that are four years older than them, and they hit harder. The biggest transition will be the way I want them to play here. It is coming to them quickly, and that is just a testament to how hard they have been working so far.”
The Lady Panthers will compete at the Temple Tournament Thursday through Saturday, in Temple. Bauer is looking for more of the same from his team.
“In practice this week, we will be looking to get sharper,” he said. “For the tournament itself, we are looking to continue where we left off. We set the tone for the season winning the first tournament, and we don’t expect anything less from here on out. I am a very defensive person, and in the four games of the tournament, we did not give up a goal. If you include the two scrimmages, that is six games without surrendering a goal, which shows their hard work. You can’t lose in soccer if you don’t let the other team score.”