Needing a new start
By Scott Akanewich
When the Panthers took to their home field in the season-opener against Harker Heights, they were looking to turn the page on a disappointing season that saw Liberty Hill fail to qualify for the playoffs in its first season as a Class 5A program.
The result was a promising 5-2 victory, as the Purple-and-Gold scored three goals in the first half and added a pair in the second in prevailing over the Class 6A Knights.
Senior striker Kegan Taggart scored a pair of goals in the victory, while Dhar Ramsingh, Jeremiah Doyen and Jett Byers each netted a goal apiece.
Sean Snelgrooes supplied two assists and Doyen ans Taggart each had one in the win, with freshman Luke Phillips posting a shutout in goal.
Following that result, the Panthers traveled to House Park in Austin to face McCallum and came away with a hard-fought 1-1 draw, an effort of which head coach Felix Esparza was pleased with, he said.
“We went down, 1-0, in the first 15 minutes,” said Esparza, who is in his first season as Panthers head coach. “But, we kept battling.”
Taggart once again supplied the offense with the second-half strike that leveled the score, which was how the game ended, as Andrew Marshall assisted and Phillips allowed only the first-half goal in net.
For Esparza, this season marks his debut as a head coach, which means there has been a rather steep learning curve when it comes to all of the responsibilities that come with being a bench boss – on and off the field.
“Mostly, it’s been all the administrative things you have to handle as a head coach,” he said. “On the field, it’s been having to make in-game
adjustments and making sure my eyes are in the right place, so I can ask myself why something is happening.”
As Esparza has gotten to know his new players, he said it’s been a bit of a challenge to get them to focus on all the little aspects of the game that go into success and not just shiny statistics.
“When you’re dealing with teenagers, they’re always obsessed with the stats – the goals and assists,” said Esparza. “But, you also need to concern yourself with things like possessing the ball properly, taking chances when they’re open without trying to force things and getting back to fundamentals.”
However, Esparza has been happy overall with the level of buy-in he’s gotten so far from the players.
“We have good kids here,” he said. “They work hard and you can’t ask for anything more.”
Taggart had three goals in the opening two games of the season and will be largely depended on to continue to provide scoring as the campaign progresses, along with fellow scorers Ramsingh and Byers, while senior midfielders Hayden Ehrsam and Garrison Clopton are expected to control the middle of the park.
At the back, sophomore defender Marcelo Bravo anchors a defense that has Phillips as the last line in goal.
Esparza said Bravo is athletic and versatile enough to fill multiple roles.
“Marcelo’s good enough to play anywhere on the field,” he said.
In addition, Bravo is one of three team captains, along with fellow sophomore Caden Glenn and Ehrsam, with the trio looked to for leadership.
According to Esparza, the three were selected as captains due to their undying work ethic – although that’s something that runs throughout his entire team.
“Those three never missed a practice or a weight room, which shows a lot of commitment on their part,” said Esparza. “But, I don’t want to single just them out because our entire varsity has been here every day.”
Esparza and his players are on a mission to restore the program to the standard it was at before last season’s disappointing outcome and he’s confident they’re headed in the right direction.
“There’s always room for improvement, but I believe we’re on the right track,” he said. “We’re a very talented team and have the ability to be successful. As long as we play Liberty Hill soccer, the rest should take care of itself.”