With soccer season underway, hopes are high for a couple of area standouts.
Guyer’s Hailey Lander and Flower Mound’s Sebastian Palma actually have a lot in common.
Both are defenders, both wear the number six and both are among the top players in their respective districts.
Lander, 18, was the Defensive Player of the Year in district 5-6A last season, and coach Mandy Hall said her contributions to the Guyer program have been invaluable.
“She is the backbone of our defensive line and the player that everyone looks at when things aren’t going well or when we need someone to lean on,” Hall said. “She consistently makes big plays, chases forwards down, and is constantly talking and organizing and encouraging our team.”
The two-year captain stepped up in a big way last season for the Lady Wildcats in particular.
“We had several new players playing on varsity, and she quickly stepped into lead and helped those players adjust,” Hall said. “In what could have been a transition year with players learning the varsity game and trying to get chemistry, especially with basically a new defensive line, we didn’t miss a beat and a lot of that is due to Hailey and her leadership and the way she plays. Our season was canceled with two district games to go last year, but we did solidify a second place district finish prior to the shutdown.”
Besides her talent, Hall said it is hard for her to put into words the intangibles that Lander brings to the team.
“She is the hardest worker,” Hall said. “She is the example of a good teammate; she is consistent on the field, a leader off the field, an ambassador to our school and our community. She’s considerate, servant-hearted, passionate, committed, dedicated, and day in and day out regardless of the situation or who’s there will do the right thing.
“When I started at Guyer, I really worked to adjust the culture of our program and to shift the mindset and a lot of the success in that realm is due to Hailey and the other seniors we have buying in and setting such a strong example.”
For Lander, 2019-20 was a frustrating season and she wants to make the most out of this season.
“I’m more than excited for this coming year,” Lander said. “With this being my senior year, and the added pressure of a pandemic, I feel gratitude with each and every game. The fact that we are playing without any guarantees has made me realize how important it is to focus on the moment that you are in. As a team, our chemistry is only growing, and we are learning to focus on our game, despite our opponents.”
The Lantana teen said that as she reflects back on her time at GHS, she has no regrets.
“I definitely feel like I have made the most of my time at Guyer due to the obvious impact it has made on me as a person, and as a player,” Lander said. “Coach Hall and this program have pushed me to reach my potential as a leader. I have learned to enjoy being out of my comfort zone.”
Lander is headed to Louisiana-Lafayette this fall and said she could have not asked for a better fit, both academically and athletically.
“The University of Louisiana is a place I know I will find a culture and family like the one I fell in love with at Guyer,” Lander said. “I know Coach Key, Coach Salas, and Coach Spade will push me to reach my potential as a player and a human being. I know I will love UL on and off the field, and I can’t wait to be a part of the unique architecture program that UL has to offer.”
For Palma, 18, last season was a bit of a disappointment as the Jaguars were not positioned to qualify for the postseason.
But the Flower Mound teen was a first team all-district selection and said he is excited about Flower Mound’s chances in 2021.
“I’m super excited for this season,” Palma said. “I am confident in my team and our ability to work together and win games. I think we are in a great position to have a successful season.”
Palma said that of all the positions on the pitch, defender appealed to him the most.
“There’s something about winning the ball or making a great tackle that gives me satisfaction and joy,” Palma said. “I believe playing defense has taught me how to read and play the game.”
Palma said his objectives for his season are a bit lofty, but added that he would not have it any other way.
“I like to set the bar high, so my overarching goal would be to win state,” Palma said. “However, my main focus is to come out as district champs. I believe our team has the talent, leadership, and determination to come on top. As a defender, I also wouldn’t mind scoring a goal or two.”
Palma said his competitive soccer career will come to an end when he graduates, but added that he does not intend to hang up his cleats just yet.
“I still plan to join a club soccer team in college, but I don’t intend to play at the next level,” Palma said. “I have not yet decided where I plan to go to college, but there is a possibility I will study Business at the University of Texas at Austin.”
Flower Mound soccer coach David Doyle said he recognized Palma’s talent from the moment he signed up for soccer.
“Sebastian has been one of those kids that when I saw him as a freshman I knew he would be a big asset to our program,” Doyle said. “He hasn’t disappointed all four years.”
Doyle said he will rely on Palma to provide leadership this season and said he believes the hard work he and his teammates have put in will benefit Flower Mound in 2021.
“Sebastian is one of our leaders on the team,” Doyle said. “He leads by example with the way he plays and makes others around him better. Last year’s team was very inexperienced, and they will be better this season for the growing pains they went through last season.”