JACKSON TWP. Every year is different, even for a program that has been consistently good over the past decade.
The Jackson girls soccer team has won more Federal League championships than any of its rivals during that time, but as this season has taken shape, it has developed its own personality, according to veteran head coach Frank Gagliardi.
"Some years, you don’t see as much growth, but we are seeing maturity and cohesiveness a bit more with this team," Gagliardi said. "Some years you start off in nice place and level off, but we’re seeing a lot of growth."
With a 7-2-1 record and 3-0-0 start in league play, Jackson has had some solid outings and also faced several top teams from the area. According to Gagliardi, the coaching staff has made some minor tweaks in the early weeks of the season with the primary goal of instilling more competitiveness in the Polar Bears.
One of the team’s losses was to a highly ranked Strongsville team, a contest in which Gagliardi admitted the Mustangs were simply the better team on that day. A loss to Wadsworth was a bit different, as Jackson believed it had a chance to win the game but didn’t capitalize.
A draw against a Walsh Jesuit team that has been a state title contender in recent seasons was an encouraging sign, suggesting that the Polar Bears are good enough defensively to contend with the best teams they may face in the postseason.
"We’ve been pretty fortunate between Chloe (Falconer) as our keeper and trying to play a balanced style," Gagliardi said.
We’re not just going to try to wing it up there and run after it."
Falconer "brings a very level personality style and attitude and holds herself accountable at high level," according to Gagliardi. Her varsity experience has proven a steadying factor on the back line of the defense and for a team that prides itself on not allowing many goals, her play is vital.
It could be even more important as the season winds down, as Jackson faces some stiff tests down the stretch. One of those tests is a Hoover team that has also yet to lose in league play and if the two teams can win their respective fourth league games of the season, their Oct. 11 showdown will determine the league championship.
While the league’s small size means just five league games for every team, Gagliardi likes the level of play within the league and believes it’s on the upswing.
"I think our league’s not real big, but I like its growth as far as competitiveness," Gagliardi said. "You have more kids playing youth soccer and can see it at the high school level now."
He pointed out that Hoover and Green are among the league teams that have scored big non-league wins this season, beating teams they’ve lost to in the past. Playing those tough league games helps boost an already challenging non-league schedule for Jackson and those big games matter for several reasons.
"You can practice situations all the time but until you get into a game, you don’t know. It’s good to see how they respond," Gagliardi said.
The response has been solid so far and with just a few games left before the tournament, the Polar Bears are still taking shape and showing what kind of team they are.
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