PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Soccer’s Abbey Janicek

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Liberty Hill freshman Abbey Janicek (left, #5) fends off a physical Burnet defender during the Lady Panthers’ district opener on Feb. 9. Liberty Hill came away with a 5-0 shutout victory, during which Janicek scored two goals. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

By LANCE CATCHINGS

Liberty Hill freshman Abbey Janicek has played soccer since the age of five, but her lengthy experience did not stop the nerves from hitting when it came time to join the ranks of the Lady Panthers.

“When I was five, my parents started me in soccer,” Janicek said. “I loved playing more and more as I got older and decided it was something I wanted to take seriously. Coming into Liberty Hill High School, I was nervous, because I had never played with girls that were four years older than me. I am a smaller person, so I was nervous about getting hurt. I wasn’t sure if the older girls would try to hurt me because of my size, but I have dealt with it pretty well so far.”

As with most high school athletes, there was a freshman learning curve for Janicek once she became a Lady Panther. She had no idea where she would be placed after tryouts, but hoped for the best. While Head Coach Darren Bauer’s style was different than she was used to, she learned to adapt relatively quickly.

“We went through offseason and Coach Bauer evaluated us,” she said. “When I found out I made varsity, it was an awesome feeling and I was really excited. I had watched the Lady Panthers when I was younger, and now I got to be one of those players. Playing Lonestar Select soccer previously, we played a different style of soccer than we do for Coach Bauer. Back then, everything was about attacking and getting the ball forward. Coach Bauer likes us to keep possession and pass the ball around more. I had a big problem with that at first, because I was so used to going forward. Over the past several months I have learned to calm down when I am playing, be patient and help our team keep possession.”

Not only did Janicek make the varsity roster, but she was selected to be a starting midfielder for the team, as well. That decision by Bauer has paid nice dividends for the team. The 5’3” freshman has accumulated 19 points on seven goals this season, while also racking up five assists.

“I wasn’t expecting to be a starter,” Janicek said. “The first game was not my best because of all the nerves, and it was my first high school game. I tried to settle down, and I have learned how to play the style that he wants us to. Our start to the season was pretty cool. We won games with high scores of 9-0, and I had never played with a team that won games like that before.”

Two of Janicek’s goals came in the 5-0 shutout of the team’s district opener against rival Burnet last Friday night. Janicek scored the first two goals of the game to give the Lady Panthers the early edge in the contest.

“Before the Burnet game, I knew we needed to go out and give it everything we had, and it worked out for us,” she said. “The first goal I scored was a corner kick from Brooke Briscoe. The ball knocked around a bit until I took a touch and it went in. That made the score 1-0. I love watching the ball go into the back of the net. I turn around and everyone is excited and there is a quick moment where I think, ‘I really did that.’ Then it is time to go to midfield and start again. The second goal, Madi Fuller crossed it in and Piper Tabor tried to head it in. It hit off the crossbar and I followed up and tapped it in to make it 2-0. It was a cool feeling, but it was still early in the game, so we had to keep working until the game was over.”

Janicek may be young, but her production is undeniable. She also has a clear head on what will help her team reach its goals. She believes the youth on the Lady Panthers’ roster will be a big part of the team’s success.

“A big part of our success is us trusting each other,” she said. “We can’t get frustrated and we have to work together to get goals in the back of the net. Our big goal this season is to make it to State, and I really feel we can do it. We have beaten 6A schools and we have beaten some good opponents. Many of the starting freshmen on our team have played select soccer for a long time. I definitely don’t see our youth as a disadvantage. I think we all hold our ground pretty well. Now that people have seen us play together, I think they expect us to go out and do good things.”

Lance@LHIndependent.com

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