Liberty’s boys soccer team featured three captains this spring, all of which were chosen by player vote.
Coach Dave Abarbanel said for the first time he let the Lions decide on all three, and Ben Hiebler earned one of the roles. The senior midfielder considered it a high honor, then did his best to lead Liberty during the shortened spring season.
Hiebler led the county in assists, finished second in scoring, and powered the Lions to the Carroll County Athletic League championship and an 8-0 record. The Times Player of the Year said success this season stemmed from the motivation of being chosen as a captain, along with teammates Chimwemwe Chinkuyu and Owen Milewski.
“Hopefully as a captain, I was able to set the right example for the Liberty program in general and what varsity high school soccer expects of you,” Hiebler said. “It also taught me more discipline and made me need to be more disciplined because of that role. I felt that I could do it, and I fulfilled that role pretty well and helped lead the team.”
Hiebler had 18 points on five goals and eight assists. And he came through in big moments, particularly in Liberty’s biggest game of the spring.
Westminster came to Eldersburg on April 6 and the Lions needed a win to stay undefeated and capture their third county crown in four seasons. The Owls had a late 3-2 lead before Hiebler scored from a direct-kick attempt by Dylan McLaughlin with 1:40 remaining in regulation.
“To be honest, I didn’t even feel like the time was ticking down and we needed to score until the referee said there was 3 or 4 minutes left,” Hiebler said. “Then I was like, ‘OK we really need to go now or our 8-0 dream is over.’ ”
Hiebler headed in a corner kick for the game-winner with 22 seconds to play in the first overtime, and Liberty survived. The Lions shut out Century three days later to finish off a perfect spring.
“It was awesome. I feel that we made the most out of the season as we would, since there was no states or regionals or any playoffs,” Hiebler said. “I feel that 8-0 was as best as we could do, and we did it.”
Liberty was county champs and 11-1-1 heading into a regional playoff match with Century in 2019, but the Lions lost to the eventual Class 2A state champion. Having to sit on that defeat for more than a year made Hiebler and his teammates hungry to change the outcome this spring, he said.
The Lions topped the Knights twice this spring en route to the county title, and Hiebler linked some of the success to participating in a parent-run fall league in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
High school sports were on hold at the time, but Hiebler said playing in Taneytown and at the former North Carroll High School helped with team chemistry and each player getting valuable pitch time.
“Getting touches on the ball as much as I could helped my game, and helped me grow,” Hiebler said.
Abarbanel said he watched Hiebler take his game to a higher level this spring. Liberty’s roster is filled with talented players, but Hiebler developed his game in a way that rose to the top of the list, his coach said.
“I think his motor ... that’s really the next step that he took from last year,” Abarbanel said. “He had a very good year [in 2019]. But he was just like a full 80 minutes, every game. Just the relentlessness of his game this year I think was really the difference.”
Hiebler is set to compete on Liberty’s track team this spring and should be helping the Lions in the 400-meter dash and 800 run. He’ll be trying to get in his soccer touches as well, with plans to attend Virginia Tech this fall.
Hiebler said he wasn’t ready to pursue the NCAA’s recruiting process, but doesn’t want to be finished with his favorite sport just yet.
“I’m going to try to make the club soccer team down there,” he said. “I like the school a lot. And if not club there’s always intramurals.”
His varsity coach wouldn’t be surprised if Hiebler becomes a reliable team captain in the future.
“He’s a very talented player, he’s just naturally very athletic,” Abarbanel said. “But there’s a lot of people like that. I’ve had people like that before. He just didn’t give in really. And I’ll also say that he put in the work. ... He transformed his body, he definitely got stronger. More durable. It’s hard work preseason, off the field and in practice, and then on the field as well. That was the difference for him.”