It wasn’t unusual to see Nate Libertowski staying after practice to work on penalty kicks.
One shot after another, the Medina senior went to Medina Memorial Stadium after a grueling training session to work on a shot that comes around maybe a handful of times throughout the course of a season.
The 18-year-old wanted to make sure that what happened before would never happen again.
“Losing last year (in the district final) was my entire motivation,” said Libertowski, referring to the Bees’ penalty kick-shootout loss to Copley in the 2011 Brunswick Division I District final. “I would stay after practice for at least 15 minutes because of how we lost.
“Even when we were preparing for the playoffs, all we could talk about was Copley.”
Medina not only got that rematch, but Libertowski’s extra reps paid off, helping the Bees advance to regionals for the first since 2007 and giving the midfielder The Gazette MVP award for 2012.
It was easy when the game — or rather the season— was on the line. Coach Mark Malikowski was quick to put Libertowski in the pressure-packed moment.
“He’s our guy — whether it was in a shootout or in the run of play,” he said. “He was just that confident and that good.”
Libertowski and his Medina teammates got their rematch with the rival Indians in a district semifinal.
After a 1-1 draw at the end of regulation, the 5-foot-8, 140-pounder got his revenge.
Libertowski stepped to the line just minutes into overtime and fired the ball into the back of the net and give the Bees the victory.
“It was the best feeling ever,” he said. “After all the hard work we put in, that was the moment that we all waited for.
“I knew exactly where I was going to put the shot, and I knew it was going in. I was that confident.”
While Libertowski wasn’t quick to tell exactly where his go-to spot is when he gets a free shot, he became so good it was like shooting a free throw.
“I was pretty confident that I would hit my spot,” he said of taking PKs. “I knew (all the post-practice work) would be important or how a huge goal could tie a game, so I wanted to take some extra time to get the PK down.”
Medina went on to blank Highland 1-0 — Libertowski assisted on the goal by Aaron Liezert — and claimed the Brunswick District championship for the first time in five seasons.
Libertowski finished the season with 16 goals and nine assists — both were team highs — en route to being named first-team All-Greater Akron District and second-team All-Ohio.
He did it all with a nagging injury that never forced him to sit out.
“In the spring, I hurt my groin. It was getting better and felt good (by the high school season), and then it hurt toward the end of the postseason),”said Libertowski, who lost just seven games in his 38-game high school career. “I just took it day by day and have to push through it. It was a tough.
“It was in my right leg, so it was different when I took a shot or really couldn’t commit to a ball or a tackle. I had to play through it.”
That, along with a formation change that took away one forward and gave Libertowski more room to operate, helped him put up numbers, including a five-goal game on opening night against Valley Forge and another game-winning penalty kick as the Bees downed rival Brunswick.
His toughness didn’t shock anyone in the Medina locker room.
“You wouldn’t know it from the effort he gave in practice and games,” Malikowski said. “What a gritty year.
“I give him credit. Some would have shut it down or take a break, but he matured as the year went on. He never used it as excuse. With him at 50 percent and to have the year he had, that says a lot about his character.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.