Moving forward with confidence
By Scott Akanewich
When Liberty Hill head boys’ soccer Coach Wayne Munger scheduled rugged competition for his club in the opening four games of the season at last weekend’s Panther Cup, it was a calculated risk.
Either his side could gain valuable confidence with success or suffer morale-breaking defeats.
What he got was a little bit of both.
The Panthers finished the three-day event with a 2-2 record, defeating Progreso, 2-1 and Alvarado, 5-0, while losing to Midlothian Heritage, 4-3 and Palestine, 1-0.
Against Midlothian, the Panthers fell behind by a 4-0 score, only to fight back to 4-3 on the strength of a Jaron Frye hat trick.
An early Palestine goal, which was the result of a defensive mistake, cost the Panthers the game in a 1-0 loss to the Wildcats in a contest that Liberty Hill struggled to get back into once going behind, said Munger.
“Palestine was very technical in how they moved the ball around,” he said. “It was a tough one.”
A hard-fought 2-1 win against Progreso was the Panthers’ first victory of the new campaign and provided his squad with some much-needed confidence, said Munger.
“We have a little bit of history against them,” he said. “We’ve seen them the last few years at the regional tournament and we know they’re going to be between us and a state title, so going up on a quality team like them 2-0 was big for us.”
After the Red Ants had pulled a goal back in the second half to make it a 2-1 game, a penalty was awarded after a Liberty Hill handball was called in the Panthers’ area, but senior goalkeeper Uriel Diaz made a spectacular save to preserve the lead and the eventual win, but Munger knows when the sides meet again, none of that will matter, he said.
“Both of us will be different teams over the next two or three months,” said Munger. “Just because we beat them now, doesn’t mean we’ll beat them next time.”
The final matchup of the weekend saw the Panthers easily dispatch Alvarado by a 5-0 scoreline, as Frye scored another hat trick to go with one against Midlothian, scoring seven goals in the four games and staking his claim as the most dangerous striker in the region.
“I think it’s going to be another good season for Jaron,” said Munger.
A trio of Panthers including junior midfielder Graeme Nelson, along with a pair of sophomores — midfielder Hayden Ersham and defender Garrison Clopton — really impressed over the weekend, said Munger.
“Graeme was definitely one of the bright spots for us,” he said. “He got called up from the JV because of the injuries we’ve had and showed a lot of fight. Hayden and Garrison are really going to be good for us the next few years. I’m really happy to see the young guys doing what they are.”
However, those three aren’t the only Panthers who are beginning to roar with regularity.
“I think all of our young guys as a whole are stepping up,” said Munger. “Especially our sophomores who are becoming more confident and showing they can handle the physical side of the varsity game.”
As for what he learned about his team from what transpired over the weekend, Munger said he’s pleased with how his players are continuing to improve as they move forward.
“We had some tough competition this weekend, but I think we progressively got better as we went along,” he said. “Also, it was a good conditioning test playing four games in three days, so overall, it was good.”
Munger stressed finding weaknesses now will save suffering because of them later.
“For the most part, I’d rather know what our problems are now,” he said. “The weekend was a good test for us early on and we learned a lot about ourselves.”
After conceding four goals in the opener against Midlothian, shoring up his side’s defense was the primary order of the day, said Munger.
“We solved our defensive problems after that one, but we’re still deciding whether to play three or four at the back,” he said. “It’ll probably depend on who we’re playing.”
Lessons were also learned at the other end of the pitch.
“We learned we need immediate support going forward and putting guys up there,” said Munger. “We also need to improve our holdup play and our defensive organization as well as our attacking.”
In the game against Alvarado, Munger said his charges were suffering from a bit of fatigue.
“We were only up 1-0 at halftime and I think we had tired legs,” he said. “But, it was good for them to be out there like that and be able to get in the groove.”
Along with Frye’s hat trick against the Indians, senior midfielder Gerald Shoetan and junior striker Ethan Minix also found the back of the net in the 5-0 victory.
Liberty Hill (2-2) will next face a road game against Hutto on Jan. 10.