The Jackson girls soccer team is coming off a season where it went 17-5 overall, winning its second Class 4 District 1 Championship in two of the last three seasons.
Leading the way offensively was Southeast Missouri State signee senior Lauren Welker, who scored a career-high 34 goals last year as a junior.
Heading into the 2018 season, both Welker and 10th-year head coach Justin McMullen hope to claim yet another district championship, but also go deeper in the state playoffs.
The Indians return two other top scorers from last year starting with junior Natalie Miller, who was second in goals behind Welker with 16.
The third and final player for Jackson to score 10-plus goals last year was senior Grace Pehle with 11. She also had a team-high 11 assists.
“I was talking to Coach (Caleb) Beussink, and we return our top-three goal scorers from last year,” Coach McMullen said. “Probably a kid that we have been really impressed with is (junior) Laura Bertrand, who will be the lone returning starter for the defense this year.”
Other returning scorers from last year include junior Taylor Nelson (two goals, four assists), Bertrand (one goal) and sophomore Piper Guilliams (one goal, one assist).
“I feel really good this season about where we are at,” Coach McMullen said. “Winning a district championship the kids get a taste of that, and they want to repeat that again. That gives a little bit more enthusiasm into everything we go out and do whether it’s practice or even kids just doing right things in the school day.”
Jackson graduated a total of six seniors from last year’s teams, which includes goalkeeper Sam Schnicker, defenders Rylee Stafford and Nikki Sotak, forward Randa Norman and midfielders Haylie Woodard and Sarah Gammon.
Replacing Schnicker this year in the goal will be junior Emily Hermann, who was able to see time on the varsity level last year.
Coach McMullen said the team will probably be changing its formation this season as it will “require less” from certain positions.
Looking to fill some of those defense positions left by Stafford and Sotak will be juniors Mikala Liley and Taylor Tripp.
Since the team will be returning its top-three scorers from last season offensively, Coach McMullen wants the focus to continue to get those players the ball.
“We’re going to go a little bit more offensive minded than we’ve been in the past,” McMullen said. “We’ll see how it works out in the beginning, but we definitely have the personnel to be flexible and change formations throughout the season.”
McMullen described the three players that make up a large part of the team’s offense in Miller, Pehle and Welker as unselfish.
“At times they are almost too unselfish,” Coach McMullen said with a smirk. “You want them to actually go ahead and take players one-on-one, but everyone of those players are able to break opponents down one-on-one. They’re going to look for each other.”
Coach McMullen went on to mention Nelson as being a threat scoring wise, who he also described as a player to be a force to be reckoned with in the midfield.
Last week was the first time the team was able to practice as a whole since players who were on the basketball team did not finish their winter season until March 7.
“We probably had our best practice of the season so far [with everyone practicing on March 12],” McMullen said. “The chemistry is starting to fall into place, and that is something early on that we look for when you lose six starters. Our focus is really, really well right now.”
The Indians started their season Monday, March 19, on the road against SEMO Conference opponent Sikeston. Jackson defeated the Bulldogs handedly with a 9-0 win as Miller had a hat trick with three goals in the first half.