Former mentors inspire new Pallotti girls soccer coach

First-year Pallotti girls soccer coach Annesia Faulkner and assistant Olivia Onyeador were on the sideline at Fairland Regional Park in West Laurel on Aug. 26 as they watched the Panthers struggle in a scrimmage against Laurel High.

“We just need a John Morgan passing practice,” Onyeador said to Faulkner, alluding to the former University of Maryland women’s coach.

Faulkner, a former Pallotti High standout and 2007 graduate, and Onyeador were teammates for the Terps, although Faulkner never played under Morgan.

Still, she followed the program after her eligibility expired and says Morgan and Brian Pensky, her former Maryland coach (now at the University of Tennessee), are coaches she admires.

“I went to them for advice. I have pulled some things from Pensky and some stuff from Mike Vawter,” Faulkner said of her former Pallotti head coach. “I really want to rebuild this program.”

Faulkner is the third head coach in three years for the Panthers, who lost in an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland C Conference semifinal last year to our Lady of Mount Carmel.

She was an assistant coach last season to John Russo, who was not retained.

“The biggest challenge is I have a completely different style from Mr. Russo. Neither of us is right or wrong in our approach,” Faulkner said. “This year we had a mandatory fitness test which the girls had to pass. I am holding them more accountable for all of the little things that make a program successful.”

Faulkner, who graduated from Maryland with a degree in history in 2011, was the Baltimore Sun Player of the Year in 2006 and led the Panthers to a national ranking under Vawter.

During her college career she once had three assists in a game to tie a school record in 2008.

“Annesia always did things the right way,” Pensky wrote in an e-mail to the Leader. “She was a leader by example early on, and then with her voice as she grew older within our program. We all (players and coaches) called Annesia ‘Mom,’ because she took care of everyone and everything. Annesia was also always so selfless.”

Faulkner was dogged by injuries during her college career, yet she never stopped playing hard.

“Persistence was probably one of Annesia’s other great qualities,” Pensky wrote. “That’s how she played. She just competed and fought for everything she ever earned.”

These days, she’s working hard as ever, considering she teaches two courses in American literature, two in world history and also one that works on the school yearbook at Pallotti.

She is engaged to be married in Baltimore in January to Chris Rhodes, a former Maryland football player.

Moreover, she has to find the wherewithal to guide the Panthers past

Mount Carmel and Glenelg Country School in conference plays this fall.

“In the conference, I would like to be over .500. We lost in the semifinals, so the goal has to be to win the semifinals and make it to the finals,” she said.

The Panthers play at Mount Carmel on Sept. 12 and at Glenelg Country School on Oct. 3.

The Panthers began regular-season play Aug. 29 at Fairland against Rockbridge Academy and will take part in a tournament Sept. 6-7 at Bishop McNamara in Forestville.

In order to do so, Pallotti must replace last year’s stars Ashley Wilkinson and Brittney Brown.

“We lost a big goal scorer in Ashley, and Brittney. But we have to work on passing. Last year, Ashley got the ball and took it herself” toward the goal, Faulkner said. “This year it is more of a team emphasis.”

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