There have been two defining moments in Sami Jablonski’s first three seasons with the Westlake Demons’ varsity soccer team.
The first came Oct. 11, 2017, on the Demons’ home turf. With just under seven minutes left in the Southwestern Conference girls soccer championship, then-sophomore Jablonski stole the ball from an Amherst defender 20 yards out from goal and bullied her way through three Comets before heading the ball into the back of the net, clinching a 2-1 win and the SWC championship.
That trademark style of aggression is what Jablonski prides herself on and, at that moment, she looked unstoppable.
The second moment came almost exactly four months later on Feb. 10, 2018. At a soccer camp at West Point Military Academy, Jablonski took part in a game she wasn’t initially supposed to play in. After shooting a ball with no defenders around her, she planted her leg and her knee gave out. She had torn her ACL.
A month later, she had surgery on her knee and missed her entire junior season. During that time, Jablonski played the “‘What if?’ game” a lot, though doctors assured her that it was a matter of when, not if, her ACL was going to tear.
Whenever she replayed that shot at West Point in her head, she always went back to one memory to replace it.
“While I was going through my recovery, I had a pretty significant mental block about going back on the field,” Jablonski said. “I was just so scared. I talked to someone at my school about it, actually, and (she) said ‘Try to replace that with another thought’ and I immediately went to that goal.”
Now fully recovered, Jablonski is ready to put the injury behind her and make the most of her final year with the Demons.
“As soon as I put on my cleats to step on the field, it’s gone. I don’t think about it at all,” she said. “I have a few personal goals, teams that I want to perform well against. As a team, I want to step up into a leadership role having missed out on last year. I think we always underperform in the playoffs and I’d like to see us go farther than we have the previous two years.”
Last season, the Demons were knocked out in the Sectional final when they lost to Strongsville 2-0. Prior to that, Westlake lost to Avon in both 2016 (District semifinal, 1-0 in a shootout) and 2017 (District final, 1-0 in overtime), Jablonski’s freshman and sophomore season respectively.
This season, the Demons open against Mayfield on the road Aug. 16, before squaring off against conference opponent North Olmsted at home Aug. 21.
This will be Jablonski’s first season taking the field under coach Dane Rimko. Rimko took over at the start of the 2018 season following the retirement of legendary coach Scott Jones, who led Westlake’s girls soccer team for 16 years.
During her recovery last year, Jablonski was able to practice near the end of the season but did not play in any games. She said she’s “super excited” to finally play under Rimko and hopes to continue building in the areas she grew under Jones’ leadership.
“I scored a lot of goals my freshman year, I scored more my sophomore year, but I think the way they were scored has improved,” Jablonski said. “It’s not just sheer strength and aggression. Goals that I would have scored a couple years ago, a lot were headers and finishes off crosses, which are good, but now I’m confident to take players on one-v-one.”
That doesn’t mean she’s going to stop bullying her way through defenders when she needs to. Jablonski knows what got her here.
“That’s what I think I’m best at,” she said. “That’s my defining characteristic that sets me apart from other people. I can score the pretty goals too, but a pretty goal isn’t always going to be your last-minute equalizer.”
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