Flaws Back in the Spotlight
Aug. 21, 2014
By Lexi Shurilla, fightingillini.com staff writer | @SusanAlexisS
If you had to pick one word to describe senior forward Jannelle Flaws, it's endurance. Flaws has dealt with injuries since her senior year at Glenbrook South High School, where she suffered an ACL tear in her semifinal state game and had to sit out her freshman year at Illinois. It wasn't until last season - three years later - that she was truly able to shine again on the soccer field, scoring 23 goals while tying for first in the NCAA and notching a new school record. This season, Illinois has to prepare for the target that has been drawn on Flaws' back by opposing defenses.
"Jannelle's goal scoring ability is an important piece because it's sort of like Abby Wambach on the national team, you just don't want to play against her," Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield said. "You can shut her down for 85 minutes and she still wins the game.
"To have a player like that on your squad, it makes everybody else's life a little bit easier because she's the focal point. Jannelle knows that and knows that if she can set up other teammates this year because the attention may be on her, that's going to be our best opportunity, for her to now share that spotlight because the defensive focus is going to be on her."
Overcoming ObstaclesFreshman year was hard for Flaws, who had to redshirt due to her knee injury. It was challenging enough being in a new environment but she wasn't able to train for her first three months on campus. The waiting took a toll but she filled her time with extra lifting and fitness.
Her sophomore year was disappointing as her performance on the field didn't rebound like she'd hoped. She couldn't move as well as she used to be able to and near the end of her sophomore year, she tore her ACL for the second time. At that point she was doubtful if she would ever be as good as she once was.
Going through the ups and downs of her early Illini years wasn't easy, and Flaws turned to her teammates for some much needed support. As some of her best friends, having her team around to encourage her and help her stay positive helped Flaws get back to where she wanted her game to be.
"I had a great support system that even on the days when I was really frustrated and I just needed to be with someone or cry, I always had someone to pick me up," Flaws said. "The coaching staff is great too. Always encouraging, always knew when to push me and when to pull me back and along with that I had a fantastic trainer that got me back physically where I needed to be, and mentally as well by trusting that everything was going to be fine."
'Fine' was an understatement. Flaws wasn't sure what to expect for her junior year. She didn't play over the summer, so she didn't know where her game was at. Then a couple games in, she started lighting up the net and she realized that she had gotten her game back, that she could really play again and that's what she wanted to do.
After finding the net 23 times over the course of the season, Flaws broke Emily Brown's 14-year-old record of 18 goals from 1999, accounting for 43 percent (23 of 54) of Illinois' goals and averaged 1.00 goal per game. She scored in 15 of 23 games, notched five game-winning goals and boasted six multi-goal games, including a pair of hat tricks. And she set the Big Ten record for most shots in a season with 126 and school record for most shots in a game with 14 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Portland.
Replacing the likes of Vanessa DiBernardo will be big shoes to fill for the Fighting Illini, but Flaws has quite the résumé of her own coming into the 2014 season. Flaws took home the honor of being named University of Illinois' Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the Year, Big Ten Forward of the Year and named first-team All-Big Ten. Looking toward her future as an Illini, Flaws wants to continue to get stronger and clean up certain aspects of her game, and she's excited for the chance to improve and do better than what she did last year.
"I think she had to be the backbone in times where Vanessa was injured, but in all honesty, she is the goal-scorer of this team," Rayfield said of Flaws' role at Illinois. "She is the leading actress of this team, but the backbone of this team is some of the players that surround her. No great goal-scorer does what they do without putting people behind that and that's what's so exciting. Jannelle is the icing on top of that, she's the glory part, she's the glitter and the goal-scorer, and those are hard to come by."
Making those around her better is a skill that shows through Flaws' leadership on the team. As the oldest player on roster, her younger teammates have the chance to learn from someone who has been through a lot while wearing Orange and Blue and will benefit from having the defense's attention on Flaws.
"It's going to open up a lot of opportunities for my teammates," Flaws said. "The more a team is focused on me, the less they'll focus on them and we have some great players who can fill those roles. It's going to be great for our team because you can't shut just one of us down. For me it's going to be kind of just do what I did last year, keep proving myself at the college level and that it wasn't just a one season wonder, that I can do it again. It's just getting on the field every day, working hard just to be that much better than I was last year."
Although she had a minor injury in the spring, Flaws fought through it and played most of the summer. After exceeding many people's expectations her junior season, she spent the summer honing her game, and is feeling good looking toward the start of the season.
"This will be her first back-to-back collegiate season and that has its own challenges," Rayfield said. "Sometimes the sophomore year is the hardest. Jannelle had no expectations last year. She was coming off injuries, she didn't even know what to expect from herself and now the bar has been set. Sometimes challenging yourself against a bar is a little more difficult than having no expectations. Jannelle is one that deals with expectations well, she wants them. I think she'll handle the expectations very well, but it is a new place for her to be coming into a season as someone who's had some history, who's had a season, who's been the nation's leading scorer, who's on the MAC Hermann watch list, she's not the unknown player coming into this season."
The MAC Hermann Trophy is the most prestigious individual award in NCAA soccer presented annually to one male and one female athlete. The nation's leading goal scorer from a year ago garnered preseason recognition on the list for the first time in her career. Flaws also earned a spot on Top Drawer Soccer's Preseason Best XI Second Team and was selected as a Big Ten Preseason Player to Watch.
"I have more of a foundation of what to shoot for," Flaws said. "I had similar expectations for what I wanted to do last season and now I actually have numbers that I can look at to really push myself. It's different in that I haven't had this since high school but it's exciting that I can work on my game. It just motivates me that much more to improve, just to see where I can go, if there are any limitations or if there's not. For me it's just a stepping stone into being better than I was."
The underlying goals for the Illini are to compete for a Big Ten championship, make a run in the NCAA tournament and just focus on winning while putting their best foot forward - in this case, Illinois' top forward, forward. Flaws says she still has a lot of work to do, but is confident in what she does well, and what she puts in at practice to be able to have that confidence to get the job done.
"I like the pressure, I like being a reliable person for my teammates to go to," Flaws said. "For me, if we're winning and doing well, if I'm not the number one in the nation, that's not the end of the world. I want to win. Individually, it would be great to reach that point again but I'm looking more for the team to do well.
"I take more of a responsibility on myself to set a standard and set a good example of what Illinois soccer means because I've been around the longest and know what it means, what it's meant in the past and what it's going to mean in the future."