Heading into the Noon Optimist Tournament Championship game, the Jackson girls soccer team had yet to allow a single goal all season. The Indians continued this trend to win the title.
Jackson (4-0) defeated Saxony Lutheran (3-1) by a score of 6-0 as five different players scored a goal for the Indians in Saturday’s contest.
“We knew we had to work the ball around a little bit and spread things out, but that comes with every game,” Jackson head coach Justin McMullen said. “Defensively, [Saxony] was kind of compact so we tried to spread them out and eventually we opened some things up.”
Leading the way scoring wise for Jackson was junior Natalie Miller, who managed to score a game-high two goals.
Miller’s first goal came in the 30th minute of the contest as she was able to beat a Saxony defender one-on-one to send the ball past the Crusaders senior goalkeeper Ashley Fritsche.
“Keeping possession of the ball opens some things up and allows us to take players one-on-one in situations like that,” McMullen said.
Six minutes prior to that is when the first goal of the game was scored when senior Lauren Welker sent the ball from the side of the net to junior Taylor Nelson, who finished with a forceful kick for the score.
“That’s how we are setup to do things right there,” Coach McMullen said. “The ball goes from one side and we try to clean up things on the weakside. Then that’s exactly the prime example of a couple of our goals today.”
Before allowing two goals, Fritsche and Saxony’s defense were able to hold off a Jackson offense that has scored 25 goals through four games. Fritsche netted a total of six saves in the first half.
“It’s nothing that I don’t expect from her, and I tell her all the time just to make the routine saves,” Saxony head coach Chris Crawford said. “‘Anything after that if you make a spectacular one that’s great.’ We’ve been spoiled to have her back there, and she works very well with our defense. Our defense has been playing outstanding.”
The Crusaders defense was tested throughout the entire game as Jackson’s offense maintained possession for most of the match.
Fritsche finished with a total of nine saves whereas Jackson junior goalkeeper Emily Hermann did not have to do as much work.
Saxony, which was without its leading scorer from last year in sophomore Emma Brune due to precautionary reasons, failed to get a shot on goal against Jackson.
“The defense does a good job, but there’s one player in particular that is the anchor back there, and that’s [junior] Laura Bertrand,” Coach McMullen said. “She does a really good job of keeping things organized back there even when we start moving people around. Laura is still always there and does a good job organizing and communication wise.”
Juniors Bri Jenkins and Zoie Roth saw more playing time due to Brune’s absence with Mueller moving into her position.
Another goal was not scored until the 19th minute of the second half when Welker found senior Grace Pehle on nearly the same play she found Nelson in the first half. This gave Jackson a 3-0 lead.
It only took two minutes for the Indians to add their fourth goal of the game as one of Jackson’s starting freshman Grace Crowden was able to get the ball past Fritsche for her first goal of the year.
“I’m very proud of all three of my freshman I put out there to start the game,” Coach McMullen said. “They have a lot of soccer experience, but Grace has been really relentless there. All three of those girls don’t play like freshman — they come on the field and play like they’re an experienced veteran to be quite honest. Going forward that’s definitely going to help us with the schedule we have coming up.”
With under six minutes left in regulation, it was junior Mikala Liley to put the ball in the net as she broke free from Saxony’s defense to score the unassisted goal.
Miller added her second and final goal of the game with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that can score,” Coach McMullen said. “We can score from a lot of different angles, and I think that makes us dangerous. We will be exciting to watch as far as scoring goals. We just try to keep that other thing at the other end at zero, but that won’t last very long.”
Coach McMullen was referring to the fact his team has not allowed a goal this season. He credits not only his defense and goalie, but every player on the field as they keep pressure on opposing squads while maintaining possession of the ball and getting shots on goal.
Jackson and Saxony will face off one more time this season as the Indians will host the Crusaders Tuesday, March 27.
After that, Jackson will host Cape Notre Dame on Monday before hitting the road to face Parkway South April 4 and Union April 6.
The Indians will then host Farmington and Carbondale on April 9 and 10 before the start of the Kickapoo Tournament April 12.
Jackson was the second Class 4 team Saxony had to face in the tournament as the Crusaders were able to defeat Poplar Bluff 1-0 in the semifinals on March 23. The Mules defeated last year’s tournament champions Notre Dame 4-3 in the opening round March 22.
The Crusaders faced Class 3 Sikeston to start the tournament as they defeated the Bulldogs 2-1.
“It’s always great to play Jackson even though we’ve been on the losing end for a while,” Coach Crawford said. “To play against speed and talent like that is only going to make us better going forward. I told the girls after, ‘We had to play a Class 3 and then two Class 4 schools in this tournament,’ which if you’re trying to win the tournament is not ideal.
“The experience that it gives us going forward is really good. We’ve had to do with juggling our lineups and doing some different things, so I’m very pleased. I’d rather play like that than have to go and play people that aren’t going to challenge us.”
After having to travel and face Jackson once more, the Crusaders will face Sikeston (April 5) and Poplar Bluff (April 10) again in back-to-back road trips.
Saxony will then face Notre Dame on the road before competing in the Spartan Invitational.