Flaws battles through injuries to become scoring machine

Jannelle Flaws’ fearless nose for the goal developed early. When the junior forward first started playing soccer, she was a bit reckless.

“My parents said if someone told me to run through a brick wall to score a goal, I would’ve done it,” she said. “So I think it just started off at an early age and when I first started playing probably when I was 4 or 5.”

That confidence helped her to become a dangerous player around the net. At Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Ill., she scored a school-record 145 career goals and led her team in scoring all four years. She garnered a myriad of accolades and had success at both the high school and club levels. With the ELA Elite Soccer Club, she won two state titles and one Region II championship.

Flaws was all set to join the Illini following her senior year at Glenbrook, but she suffered a torn ACL during that 2010 spring season. She was already faced with the formidable task of adapting to life as a Big Ten student-athlete, and with the knee injury, acclimating to her new team became much more challenging. Head coach Janet Rayfield wanted to ensure the transition, considering the circumstances, would be as effective as possible for the newcomer.

“You want to make sure that they continue to learn while they’re in that non-participatory state,” Rayfield said. “Whether it’s making sure that you’re continuing to have conversations with them on the sideline, that you involve them in the training environment so that they’re constantly learning and also that they stay engaged.”

Rayfield said engaging an injured player is key because the sudden lack of competition can lower motivation. In 2011, Flaws rehabbed and was ready to play. She scored three goals and contributed three assists in 22 games and made the Big Ten all-freshmen team. Unfortunately, the good times were short-lived, as she reinjured her ACL and was out for the 2012 season.

But there was a silver lining this time.

“The second time around it wasn’t as bad,” she said. “Because I knew what I did that worked well and what I did that didn’t work well. I was able to learn from my mistakes the first time.”

Flaws said it was the little things she did better with the second time, including getting back into shape and watching film. Flaws was also helped out by teammate and senior defender Kassidy Brown, who played with Flaws on ELA Elite and experienced a similar setback.

“I know personally when I tore my ACL, people just kept saying, ‘You’re going to come back stronger,’” Brown said. “(It was critical) to have (our teammates) know that once she comes back healthy, she’s going to be a huge impact for the team still.”

With Flaws back and healthy for this season, the Illini have already seen that impact. In four games, she has scored five goals, including her first-career hat trick Sunday against Illinois State. That performance alongside a goal against the College of Charleston on Friday, she was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.

“There are some things about goal scorers that you just don’t coach,” Rayfield said. “They just see the opening. It’s like a great rebounder in basketball. You ask yourself the question, ‘Why are they always in the right place at the right time?’”

Rayfield also compares Flaws’ “incredible composure around the goal” to a baseball player, who is able to see the ball at the pitch because the game slows down for them.

“I’m very comfortable around the goal,” Flaws said. “I like making runs in behind (the defense). I like taking people one-on-one. Some people aren’t comfortable going one-v-one. I love going one-v-one.”

Now that she’s had an opportunity to learn from Rayfield, she said she’s added different types of runs, more versatility and better timing in staying onside to her repertoire.

Flaws will petition for a sixth year of eligibility, wanting to leave her mark both with her team and as an individual. Like any great goal scorer, she wants to surpass the best.

“I’d love to leave having my name in the record books,” she said. “All-American, national championship with the team (and) I definitely want a Big Ten (title) … I don’t know all of it. I just want to go after it.”

Alex can be reached at [email protected] and @AlexOrtiz2334.