The Jackson boys soccer team is in the middle of an 11-day hiatus as a first-round tournament bye after a stellar regular season, posting a 12-2-2 record, an unbeaten Federal League slate and earning the top seed in the Austintown Division I district tournament.
Call it the calm before the postseason storm.
The Jackson boys soccer team is coming off a stellar regular season, posting a 12-2-2 record, an unbeaten Federal League slate and earning the top seed in the Austintown Division I district tournament.
The Polar Bears are also in the middle of an 11-day hiatus as a first-round tournament bye has left them idle for longer than head coach Michael Biros would like.
"It's a little bit scary to take that kind of a break in between matches," Biros said, “but we have some things planned for the kids to keep them fresh and kind of build on our conditioning a bit.”
Postseason expectations are high for the Polar Bears after a challenging regular-season schedule that posed tests at virtually every turn.
"We're rounding into shape. We've played a pretty rigorous schedule, so we've had some good challenges along the way and our defense has played pretty well," Biros said.
Mike Meztger has been strong in goal for the Polar Bears during the regular season. As the postseason wears on and goals are at a premium, his continued solid play between the pipes will be vital if Jackson is to break through and advance past the district tournament. Grant Slovak has also provided a boost on the back line of the defense and Biros credited his consistency for much of the team's defensive success.
Along with a strong defense, the Polar Bears will rely on their depth and balance to make a tournament run. Without a standout scorer on offense, their attack is diversified enough that opponents can't focus on stopping any one player. Patrick Zonfa, Carter Billett, Ross Klauer and Edin Sabjlakovic are the team's leading scorers, but eight players have multiple goals this season.
"It's really been (scoring) by committee," Biros added. "When we get into tournament play, that's going to be one of our keys – finishing. Because we've done a great job of creating chances, but I don't know that we've always done a great job of finishing them."
Biros' squad also possesses significant varsity experience, with seven seniors in the starting lineup.
"You can really trust them, plus they can play a longer period of time without getting tired. They pride themselves on their fitness," Biros added. "There's a certain amount of pride and tradition in this program that we're not going to be outworked in the field."
Having good physical conditioning has been the standard in the program throughout Biros' 13-year tenure and this year's seniors have bought into that philosophy. They also have the support of many former players who maintain strong ties to the program. Alumni routinely attend games and send messages of encouragement to the current roster.
Page 2 of 2 - "It goes back to our strong tradition. We have a lot of alumni that come back and pat the kids on the back and say, 'Hey, it's your turn,'" Biros added. "When those alumni do come back and talk to them, it gives them a little bit of confidence and a reminder that we're playing for a little bit more than ourselves."
After getting knocked out in the regional semifinals last season, there is strong motivation for this year's squad to go further.
With a No. 5 ranking in the most recent Ohio State Soccer Coaches Association Division I poll and just one unbeaten, untied team (Mason) in the state in their division, the Polar Bears are aiming to add their own state final four run to a list that includes the school's girls lacrosse, volleyball and boys basketball teams in the last four years.
"It left a bad taste in our mouth, where we thought we should have done better last year and we think we can do better this year," Biros said.
Jackson's first tournament game will be a home contest on Saturday against the winner of the Louisville-Perry first-round matchup.
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