Panthers look to Zausch in quest to return to state tourney
By Lauren Jette
In order for Liberty Hill to return to the state championship soccer game again this season, the Panthers are looking to sophomore team captain Izaac Zausch for leadership both on and off the field.
As a freshman on Liberty Hill’s first varsity team last year, Zausch played defense for the Panthers, who lost in the state championship game.
This year, second-year head coach Darren Bauer is looking for Zausch to step up on offense.
“I play attacking mid, so my main job is to get the ball from the defensive midfielders and fight through balls to our forwards so they can have the opportunity to score,” Zausch explained.
“I like it a lot more because I get opportunities to show what I can do instead of defending the whole time.”
It’s a much tougher position, because now Zausch is a target for opposing defenses.
“Usually, when you are playing that position, most of the defenders will spend most of their time marking you, try to defend you from doing your job, so it makes it a lot harder on you to get your job done,” he said.
But Zausch knows how to get around that to get the ball to a teammate to score, or into the net himself.
“A lot of movement off the ball, like getting open, being a little bit quicker than the defenders, trying to get around them and beat them most of the time,” he said.
With the Panthers sporting a 11-3 record, and still undefeated in district play, Zausch has put up impressive stats for being one of the youngest players on the team: 8 goals and 9 assists.
Despite his youth, Bauer sees the sophomore as an integral part of the Panthers’ success both this season, and in future seasons.
“Last year, he stepped up big for us, even as a freshman. He started every game last year and played a big role for us on defense,” Bauer said.
“For him to transition into midfield and take control of the team and help us play the way we want to, we needed him to step up in that role so we gave him that (captain) role to hopefully push him over the edge to get him better and get the team together. “So far, so good. We’ve still got a lot of hurdles to go with him, he’s a sophomore so he’s still got a lot of growing and maturing to do, but he’s filling into the role nicely,” Bauer added.
Age aside, Zausch has plenty of soccer experience to draw from.
“I started playing when I was three years old. I’m from California, so I grew up there and played pretty much all my life,” Zausch said.
“It was a lot different (playing soccer in Liberty Hill), it wasn’t really what I was used to. It wasn’t as high of a level as what I was used to, but it was pretty cool being able to bring it up, coming here and improving the team here.”
“It’s a lot higher speed of play, it’s more challenging. It improved me as a player,” Zausch said of his varsity experience as a freshman.
Now serving as one of the team captains, Zausch knows he needs to do more than just score goals.
“I have to lead by example. I represent this team, me and the other captain, (senior Carter Jenkins) we represent this team, so we have to lead by example, doing what we’re supposed to do trying to improve the other players that are under us.”
As the first round of district games wrap up at Academy on Tuesday, the Panthers are starting to work together on the field and build that important team bond, something Zausch is enjoying.
“Right now, it’s being able to bond with all the guys and being able to play with them and improve as a team and constantly getting better and beating other teams that maybe we wouldn’t have beaten last year,” he said.
“It’s really cool growing as a team, coming up from a first year program and being a great team that made it to state finals.”
That state championship appearance means the Panthers are the team to beat this season.
“I think (opponents) are intimidated and it makes them have the drive to want to beat us, so it makes it a lot more difficult on us knowing that they want to be us and strive to be as good as we are and try to beat us,” Zausch said.
The way the Panthers are playing so far this season, that probably won’t be happening too often though.