Last week on its home turf, the Jackson girls soccer team once again advanced to the state quarterfinals after winning the Class 4 District 1 Championship.
This is the sixth year in a row the Indians have accomplished this feat, but it’s just the third and final district title for senior Justi Nelson and the rest of members of Jackson’s senior class.
Nelson and her fellow classmates all missed their freshman season due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which has made Justi appreciate the last three years she’s been able to have a season even more.
“It’s a very wholesome moment — I didn’t have my freshman season, but for my sophomore, junior and senior year we’ve been able to win district championships,” Nelson said. “I’d say it’s been a lot more exciting the past two years because of the super districts — it means a lot more to us. It shows a town like Jackson, Missouri, can compete with the big dogs in St. Louis and Kansas City.”
The future Southeast Missouri State Redhawk proved to be key for Jackson in the district title game like she has all throughout her career. The No. 1 seeded Indians finally drew first blood in the match against No. 2 Oakville off a corner kick by Nelson, which was headed in by junior Olivia Klinkhardt in the second half.
Jackson attempted several corner kicks throughout the match, which are mostly taken by Nelson. If one was to watch her when she knows she should take a corner shot, Nelson is always screaming to the ball and rushing to take the shot.
“There’s a lot of adrenaline going through my body during corner kicks, where our team has done very well all season and more than any other season,” Nelson said. “We just have those girls in the box that want that ball, and that’s the best part about it because I want to get that ball to them.”
Without having a freshman season, for Nelson it’s almost as if a player like Klinkhardt is in the same grade as she is since they’ve been playing on varsity together for the entirety of both of their high school careers.
“I honestly can’t tell that Olivia is a year younger than me to be completely honest,” Justi laughed. “She is always in there and wanting to get the ball. She does not shy away from any person — no matter their size or personality. She’s a great personality to have in the middle of the field because she takes control and works hard for all of her teammates.”
Due to the new-found momentum Jackson obtained off the score, it only took a few minutes for the Indians to add an insurance goal. This goal was scored by Nelson, of course, who bolted on the outside past a few Oakville defenders for a one-on-one opportunity with the Tigers goalkeeper.
“I’d say that one of our strengths is on the outside — I kind of get put wherever,” Nelson joked. “That was kind of our plan from the beginning, and our girls in the midfield have great eyes and saw me and got it to me. I was just happy I could finish for them because it’s really not all about the outcome. They put in all that hard work, and I just happen to be there and finished it out for them.”
The Indians were able to take a 2-0 lead early in the second half in large part because of their defensive play in the first, which was highlighted by junior goalie Camryn Alsdorf. She made several saves throughout the night but especially in the first 40 minutes, where Oakville won the battle of possession.
Alsdorf allowed her lone goal of the match in the final few minutes, but Jackson was able to hold off a Tigers comeback to secure the win thanks to their ball control.
Helping lead Jackson’s defense is also the likes of senior defenders Emilia Wunderlich and Maci Wendel, who have started multiple seasons for the Indians.
“We have our two seniors in the back line in Emilia and Maci, and they’re great leaders on the team,” Nelson said. “They’ve been playing in this program for four year, and they know how to step it up. They also show the underclassmen how to handle these types of situations, and those underclassmen have done a fantastic job of living up to our expectations and standards.
“You almost can’t tell who’s a senior, who’s a freshman or who’s a sophomore in the back line. They’ve really done an amazing job and helped our offense with being able to defend.”
In the district final, the stands were packed with Jackson fans as well as near the fence by the pitch. Crowd support will bode well for the Indians (17-1) as they are set to host Nerinx Hall (17-2-1) in the quarterfinals Saturday.
“We have a lot of committed soccer families around, and I know my family is one of the first ones to get here,” Nelson said. “It makes us want to work even harder when we see our friends and family. It’s a great feeling to play in front of them.”