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Jackson girls soccer’s Olivia Klinkhardt selflessly leading Indians

Jackson senior defender Olivia Klinkhardt has led the Indians to two shutouts during their 3-1 start to the 2024 season. Photo by Nick McNeal

Despite graduating two current college soccer players from last year’s team that won a sixth-straight district championship and only suffered two losses, Jackson girls soccer has picked up right where it left off with a 3-1 start.

Most recently, the Indians asserted their dominance in SEMO Conference play with a 3-0 shutout of 2023 Class 1 third-place Saxony Lutheran (3-1) last Tuesday.

This was Jackson’s second shutout of the season as it was tasked with replacing the Indians former center back Emilia Wunderlich, who now plays at Mineral Area College.

Indians longtime head coach Justin McMullen looked no further than one of his two senior leaders to take over Wunderlich’s spot — four-year starter Olivia Klinkhardt.

Before doing so, Olivia was certainly no stranger to transitioning from one portion of the field to the other to change positions from year to year. It’s what she’s done her entire career, which has led Jackson to win three district and conference titles as well as a combined record of 53-9 the past three years.

“I’m going to play wherever [Coach McMullen] puts me,” Klinkhardt said. “It feels really wild knowing that I have a coach who can trust me to play in every position. I’ll play wherever the team needs me to go.”

While she’s been the one to primarily change positions over the course of her career, Klinkhardt said a lot of her other teammates could do the same. “It’s not just about me,” she explained. “It takes a lot of teamwork as well. Everyone has to adjust to new things, and they’ve helped me adjust a lot.”

Olivia primarily played as a forward up top as a freshman, and she transitioned to more of a midfield role her sophomore and junior seasons. She used to be one of Jackson’s top scorers before making the move to defense.

While scoring is where all of the glamour is when it comes to soccer, Klinkhardt enjoys playing on defense because it allows her to bring out her aggressiveness.

“I like being aggressive back there,” she smiled. “I like winning those 50-50 balls. Again, I’m still learning the position because I haven’t played it much the past three years — I’ve been more in the midfield.”

From playing more of an offensive role previously, Olivia is used to going up the field “a lot.” Not doing that has been the most difficult thing she’s had to get used to while playing defense since she has to help protect the net.

Alongside Klinkhardt on defense are players like junior Mia Becker, sophomore Ashlyn Dawes and freshman Masyn Daniel. Dawes played on defense last season and has stepped into a center back role with Olivia.

“We have a pretty young team this year, especially our back line — we have a few young ones,” Klinkhardt said. “It takes a lot of communication back there, especially because last year [Dawes] was more of an outside back. Going into center, you have a little bit more responsibility. I think she does really well under pressure, and I really trust her back there.”

Even though she primarily plays defense for the Indians, Klinkhardt will still get ample opportunities to score this spring as she plays a vital role on corner kicks. She’s done plenty in the past by either heading or kicking the ball in for big-time goals.

The one other senior on this year’s team is forward Lauren Marchi, who has also started multiple years for the Indians. Olivia said the two have been getting along since their freshman year as Klinkhardt actually went to a small Christian school before she started attending Jackson High School.

“Coming in, [Marchi] was really welcoming of me, and we’ve been by each other’s side the entire way,” Olivia said. “It’s just us two seniors, and we usually have four, five or six, but it’s just the two of us. She’s helped me a lot [with leading the team], as well as our upperclassmen.”

Klinkhardt says even though there are just two seniors on the team this year, it helps with her and Lauren being at opposite ends. This allows Olivia to lead the back line while Marchi can do the same in the front, which Klinkhardt believes will help control the flow of the game.

The one loss Jackson suffered in the early season was to fellow Class 4 opponent Marquette (4-1) by a score of 2-0. This was in the Indians own showcase two weekends ago, where they also beat Helias Catholic (0-4) 3-1.

“We’ve been trying to work really quickly to stretch teams out and use our aggressiveness against them,” Klinkhardt said. “We’ve been working towards this season for months, we’re just excited to get out here and show our fans what we’ve been working so hard for.”

Along with hoping to win a seventh-straight district championship this spring, Jackson, of course, also has aspirations to make the Class 4 Final Four for the first time since 2018.

Making state would not only be a monumental way for Klinkhardt to end her career as an Indian, but it would also be a story-book ending for Coach McMullen in what is his final year at the helm.

“He’s an amazing coach — he’s taught me a lot these past four years, and I’m really going to miss him when I leave,” Olivia said. “I think he’s left a great impact on everyone he’s met.

“Jackson girls soccer is amazing — I don’t want to play for any other program. It’s the best one out there I’d say.”

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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