St. Vincent Pallotti senior striker Annesia Faulkner draws the attention of everyone when she moves to the ball

A scoring machine

Soccer

Varsity

October 11, 2006|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,SUN REPORTER

Something different happens when a soccer ball finds its way to the feet of St. Vincent Pallotti senior striker Annesia Faulkner.

Opposing defenders go on high alert. The Panthers' sideline supporters stop chatting and completely turn their attention to the field. And teammates and coaches alike expect to see something away from the norm.

When Faulkner turns on a ball - precise, explosive and mesmerizing - a show begins down the left side. The ending is often a goal.

"When Annesia decides she wants to score, she scores," said Pallotti coach Mike Vawter, who has coached Faulkner for seven years, including club ball.

Hitting the home stretch of a sensational four-year varsity career, Faulkner has scored a staggering 96 goals to go with 42 assists. She entered the week with 12 goals and seven assists this season to lead the No. 3 Panthers (10-1) atop the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference standings with a 6-0 league mark.

Possessing speed and athleticism, she has added fierce determination, refined ball skills and a businesslike approach to scoring goals.

"It's gotta be do or die - just get in the box and get it done," Faulkner said matter-of-factly early last week after scoring two goals in a 4-1 win over Notre Dame Prep. "It's what I want to do, it's what I'm up there for. If I don't score, I'm not doing my job."

Faulkner, also a standout point guard for the Panthers basketball team, played back on defense when she first started playing soccer in the third grade. Soon after, with her superior skills apparent, she was sent to center midfield to control play there. By the seventh grade, however, after continually pushing forward to score goals, she finally found her home at striker.

It's been an ideal fit.

"She has an inner drive that makes her the competitive person she is, and not all kids have that," McDonogh coach Maurice Boylan said. "She's dynamic with her skills and passion. She wants to go at you, get things done, and she always brings something special to the soccer field."

Boylan and his Eagles got a first-hand look three weeks ago when Faulkner got around two McDonogh defenders along the end line to work her way to goal. From there, she took a quick look up to find just enough room at the near post to put away the game's only goal.

It came with five minutes left and gave the Panthers their first win ever against the Eagles, a league power. Because of that fact, Faulkner tabbed it the biggest goal of her high school career.

It also was special for her father, Randy.

When he saw the McDonogh game on the schedule, he passed on the annual golf trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., he has taken with his buddies the past six years. Like so many other times, Faulkner made her father proud with a game-winning goal.

"It was pretty," he said. "I was talking to one of my golf guys after they got back home, and I told him that one effort was worth the whole trip. I love watching her play."

And she loves playing soccer.

Faulkner, who played on Amateur Athletic Union basketball teams that placed high in national tournaments for a number of years, enjoyed basketball and soccer evenly through grade school and middle school until she decided to primarily focus on soccer.

She plays with the Bethesda Extreme club team and was one of three high school players to make the Washington Freedom's under-20 developmental team this past summer.

When asked what separates Faulkner from other players, Vawter talked about her skills, strong and accurate shot and sense of the field. But the first and last thing mentioned was her work ethic.

"She makes my job easier because one of the primary jobs for a coach is to motivate the players. When you have a player like her on the team who practices as hard as she plays and pushes herself - the other kids follow that more than anything else," he said.

One look at the fence in the family's backyard reveals how hard Faulkner has worked on her game through the years. She has spent hours getting more comfortable with a soccer ball - dribbling, passing and shooting - often at the expense of a few fence posts.

"I'd say I've probably fixed three or four broken boards over the years, and there's probably more out there right now that I haven't had time to fix," Randy Faulkner said. "But I know she's out there working hard, so I don't really say much."

There's a method to Faulkner's goal-scoring madness.

In most games, her first run down the field will be an all-out sprint just to see how well her defender can keep up. From playing basketball, she has learned to effectively use her leverage to seal off defenders, any small nudge providing an advantage to get by. And when it comes to finding a corner, she makes a point of never looking at the goalkeeper right before she lets a shot go.

As for the biggest component needed to be a successful goal scorer?

"Composure," said Faulkner, who hopes to play at Maryland with plans on majoring in physical therapy. "You always have to keep calm."

The Panthers, with fellow senior Ellie Vawter (the coach's daughter) anchoring the midfield and Good Counsel transfer Amanda Carta solidifying the defense in goal, have steadily improved in the three seasons they've competed in the IAAM A Conference to the point where they are strong championship contenders this fall.

They certainly know where to look when they need a goal.

"I know we have the capability - this is the best team we've had since I've been here," Faulkner said. "This is my last year, my last opportunity, and I don't walk to walk out with anything less than a championship. In basketball, we [won the IAAM B Championship] last year, and now in soccer, it's do or die."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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