It had been 15 years since the Jackson girls soccer team had won a sectional match, and the Indians ended that streak with a 7-0 win over Hazelwood Central May 22 on the road in Florissant.
The last sectional win for the Indians was in 2003 when Jackson defeated Francis Howell Central 3-2 in four overtimes. Jackson then fell to Lafayette in the quarterfinals.
“It feels good — I’m proud of our kids because they’ve worked so hard all year long to get to this point,” Jackson head coach Justin McMullen said. “I’ve got a great group of kids and we’re going to continue to work hard and be up for the challenge on Saturday.”
Jackson (18-4) scored two goals in the first four minutes of play as senior Lauren Welker put in both of them, one assisted by junior Taylor Nelson and the other from senior Grace Pehle.
“The leadership there [by Welker] is showing the team, ‘Hey, it’s time to go,’” Coach McMullen said. “She’s going to rise to the occasion, but every one of those kids did, too. Grace Pehle was another player senior wise [to step up]. We came together and we played together.”
Coach McMullen emphasized to his players they needed to have a quick start and score early. He felt like his team was able to calm down after taking the 2-0 lead and were able to play to their liking.
Welker finished with a hat trick since she scored her third and final goal of the game in the 14th minute for the Indians to take a 3-0 lead over the Hawks (12-11-1).
“My teammates had some great balls over the top, and I think I was just in the right place at the right time,” Welker said. “I just so happened to make those runs at the ball and just happened to be faster than [the defenders].”
Pehle scored the team’s fourth goal after two of her own attempts were no good when Welker was able to get her the ball in the 17th minute.
Sophomore goalkeeper Raquel Hankerson and the rest of the Hawks defense were able to keep the Indians scoreless for the remainder of the first half.
Hazelwood Central only managed to record three shots on goal in the first half. The first was when the Hawks started the game with possession as SEMO commit junior Jada Harvey attempted a lengthy goal.
“Coach Beussink and I came up and scouted them out,” Coach McMullen said. “We knew [Harvey] was a very dangerous player, but we felt like if we pressured them up the field it was going to make it harder for them to get the ball to her. When they did get the ball to her, the defense did a good job of not allowing her to turn and get forward.”
Harvey was able to get the first shot on goal in the first 30 seconds of the second half, but the ball hit the side of the netting.
Starting things off in the second half for Jackson was the team’s leader in goals junior Natalie Miller, who scored in the 42nd minute.
Miller also scored the final goal of the game as freshman Olivia Ward sent her the ball with 18 minutes remaining in regulation.
“It’s pretty cool to see my entire team work so hard even being up like 7-0 and still continuing to go after ball after ball,” Welker said. “It’s cool as a senior to have quite a few freshman on the team and see them step up. It’s a good feeling knowing that we’re at this point and still going forward and having such a great team.”
This was the second game in a row where Miller has started the game on defense but gradually made her way up to forward.
“[Miller] is a very versatile player for us,” Coach McMullen said. “We start her in the back and move her up the field, so it kind of works like that. She’s strong enough mentally to make that transition. It’s a difficult transition to have to do that throughout the game, and she does a really good job of that.”
Scoring the sixth goal was junior Mikala “Mik” Liley, who knocked the ball in with her body off a corner kick from Nelson for her second assist in the 50th minute.
“That was something else we saw the other night was that we should be able to score on those corner kicks,” Coach McMullen said. “It was a difficult surface to be able to pass the ball and even play the ball, so we were challenged there. That corner kick right there was perfect.”
Jackson is now only one win away from making it to the final four for the first time in school history. The Indians host Ft. Zumwalt West on May 26 in the quarterfinals.
“I’ve never heard [one game away from state] before, so it’s a lot to take in and really comprehend,” Welker said. “It’s pretty exciting going into quarterfinals knowing that if we get past this game we can go to state.”