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Balanced Jackson girls soccer team hopes to extend district-title streak to six

Southeast Missouri State signee Justi Nelson is coming off a Class 4 All-State campaign where she scored 40 points with 14 goals and 12 assists as a junior. Photo by Jay Forness

For the past five seasons, the Jackson girls soccer team has remained supreme in its district by claiming five tournament championships in a row. The Indians even reached their first-ever state final four in that span, and they might have a deep postseason run in their back pocket this spring.

Not only does this year’s Jackson team return several starters from last season, but it fields two seniors who have already signed on to play at the next level. These Indians are none other than Southeast Missouri State signee Justi Nelson and future Mineral Area College Cardinal Emilia Wunderlich.

Both have, of course, started multiple seasons for Jackson as Nelson was even selected to the Class 4 All-State Team as a junior. Justi earned this honor after recording a team-high 12 assists and scoring 14 goals to finish with a total of 40 points on the year.

“Justi has been someone the last couple of years that’s been impactful for our program and not just from a soccer standpoint but off the field as well by being a good leader,” Jackson head coach Justin McMullen said. “She’s definitely making another huge step as she’s preparing to be a collegiate soccer player. We’ll try not to lean on her heavily, but I’d venture to say there’ll be moments when we’re doing just that.”

Nelson is the third of her sisters to come through the program in recent memory, all of whom continued their playing careers at SEMO under their parents Heather and Paul Nelson.

Like Nelson, Wunderlich has been a day-one starter for the Indians starting off as an outside back for Jackson’s defense. Emilia moved to her current position of center back her junior year as she’s helped the Indians record 29 shutouts (12 in 2022; 17 in 2021) over the last two seasons while only allowing 26 goals through 43 matches.

“If I had one word to describe her it would be poised — her demeanor doesn’t change no matter what the moment is,” Coach McMullen said. “We’ve been in some very hostile moments over the years with district championships, quarterfi-nals and such, and we can always lean on her for that calmness she brings to the table. She’s really worked on her game and has gotten healthy over the last couple months since she battled a small injury over the summer. She’s working herself back into soccer shape, and I’ve been really pleased with her leadership.”

Another key returnee for Jackson’s defense will be fellow senior Maci Wendel as an outside back, and she helped the Indians girls basketball team win a third-straight district championship this winter.

Fellow basketball player sophomore Camryn Alsdorf, who earned all-conference and all-district honors on the court, is set to take over as Jackson’s goalkeeper. Alsdorf is tasked with replacing former Indians multiple-year starting goalie Brooke Gerau.

“Tenacious would be my word to describe Maci — she’s a hard-nosed player who brings a good attitude to the game and to the team,” Coach McMullen said. “She’s someone that’s not afraid to go into a tackle and is going to bring her lunch pail everyday at practice as well. That motor never really slows down, and as a coach you can’t ask for anything more.

“I saw Alsdorf play in some basketball games and thought, ‘What an athlete she is.’ We did some training before basketball started, but I immediately saw what kind of athlete she was. You’re not going to be able to tell she has no experience in the goal because her athleticism allows her to do some things that are really special.”

One player who was a mainstay in the midfield for Jackson last spring is going to move to defense beside Wunderlich as a center back. This will be junior Olivia Klinkhardt as she was a top scorer for the Indians, but her abilities as a defender were too good for Coach McMullen to not utilize to a fuller extent.

“It’s not often that you get a player to buy-in when you tell them, ‘Hey, we’re going to change you from an attacking role into primarily a defensive role,’” Coach McMullen said. “Most players would be uneasy about that, but there was not one time where she questioned that. That’s the kind of leader we want in our program going forward — she’s really someone that is really good in the air and does a good job as far as making tackles and being in the right position. We thought this move was a no-brainer.”

Attacking up top with a player like Nelson offensively will be a returning starter in sophomore Rilee Monighan. Rilee was arguably the key to Jackson winning a fifth-straight district championship last year as she scored both of her team’s goals in a 2-1 double-overtime win over Oakville.

Monighan and Nelson are going to be joined by another underclassmen like freshman Madelyn Klund — the younger sister of 2022 all-state selection and current Southwest Baptist player Abbey Klund. Coach McMullen said Madelyn is very similar to her older sister Abbey, who scored a team-high 45 points with 19 goals and seven assists in her final campaign with the Indians.

Another sibling of a former Jackson soccer standout freshman Joselyn Sauerbrunn is also going to play a significant role for the Indians this season. Her older brother Jacob helped the boys soccer team win its first-ever state championship in 2020.

“They’re very mature as far as being freshmen,” Coach McMullen said. “They fit right into what we’re trying to accomplish. Madelyn reminds me of Abbey Klund and is coming into her own and brings some things to the table that I’m excited about as far as being able to attack.

“Josie is more of a defensive center midfielder for us, but she can also be involved in our offensive attack. She’s a very good passer, and she reminds me of her brother. She has a very-high soccer IQ and is very calm on the ball, so those two are definitely going to make an immediate impact.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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