PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Walter playing big role in bringing Panthers together for playoff run
By Keith Sparks
Senior midfielder Colton Walter has been a big reason why the Panthers have had so much success this season, particularly after district play started. The Panthers went an undefeated 12-0 in district play after taking some lumps in pre-district, which Walter said had a lot to do with coming together as a team on and off the field.
“I think we really came together as a team and got a lot closer than we were at the beginning of the season,” Walter said. “That bond helped us play better by getting a better understanding of what each other were going to do and what our strengths and weaknesses are out on the field.”
The Panther soccer team is full of athletes from all different backgrounds, so Walter said his goal as a senior leader was to get everybody on the same page with the same priorities in mind. Per usual, priority number one is winning a State Championship.
“We have a very diverse team, and I’ve just tried to bring everybody together,” Walter said. “I’m making sure everybody’s on the same page, making sure we all have the same motivations and all want the same thing. That’s what winning State is.”
In order to stay hot through the playoffs like they did during district play, Walter said the formula is simple.
“We really just need to stay focused and keep our work ethic up,” Walter said. “Don’t relax. Keep up the intensity and keep the grind going.”
Last Thursday, the Panthers barely avoided devastation with a double-overtime win over Wimberley, who they’d already played twice during the regular season. Walter said they had plenty of scoring opportunities, but a lack of focus cost them a number of potential goals.
“We were on all game, we just couldn’t put one in the net,” Walter said. “We were missing shots, which I think was kind of a lack of focus, but we’ve kind of refocused for this next week.”
Although the Panthers were a clear favorite in the first round, Walter said being forced into such a tight spot so early in the playoffs could pay dividends moving forward.
“I think it opened our eyes,” Walter said. “Nothing’s going to be given to us, and we have to keep fighting for it. Nothing’s going to be easy. We have to take everything we want, and we can’t slip up. We have to stay focused.”
After rolling through district without much trouble, last week’s double-overtime win showed Walter and his teammates that they’re capable of executing in do-or-die situations down the stretch, which should give them more confidence if a similar situation arises in the future.
“It showed that we can pull together as a team, play those extra minutes, and keep fighting for one another and come through in the long run,” Walter said.
Having played the Panthers twice already, Wimberley had a unique advantage in knowing exactly what Liberty Hill wanted to do offensively. By sitting back, they forced the Panthers to execute with perfect passes and strategy instead of allowing them to get out and run.
“They definitely knew how we played, and they kind of sat back on us and just waited,” Walter said. “It was really on us. We created many opportunities, but we just couldn’t finish them. We just kept going at it and finally, in overtime, we were able to put two away.”
Against Taylor on Tuesday, Walter didn’t expect the same approach, and he was right. Taylor is a “high-intensity” team that plays more aggressively than Wimberley, which Walter said the Panthers were prepared for.
“They’re a high-intensity team,” Walter said. “They’re going to press us. They’re not going to give us any time on the ball. We’re going to have to play fast and work off the ball for one another, and I think we’re ready.”
Walter said the Panthers would have to play a whole lot faster against the Ducks, relying more on athleticism than execution for the most part to wear their opponents down before making them pay with shots on goal.
“Speed of play has to be 10 times faster,” Walter said. “We have to move the ball around, work and wear them out, then be patient until we get our opportunities and capitalize on them.”
Walter scored the only goal for the Panthers in the 2-1 loss that ended their season on Tuesday. Despite the loss, Head Coach Darren Bauer said his seniors, Walter included, set the tone all season that led to an undefeated district championship.