JACKSON TWP. The encore is underway.
The Jackson girls soccer team took its recent run of success to a new level last season, making it all the way to the state semifinals. A 1-0 loss to Perrysburg ended that run, but also set up what the Polar Bears would like to be a continuation of that success this fall.
To make that a reality, there are some key pieces to replace.
"We have to replace our goal keeper and five out of six offensive positions," veteran head coach Frank Gagliardi said.
The defense played a central role last season in a 17-3-2 campaign that saw Jackson go undefeated in Federal League play and defend its league title, continuing a run of dominance that has consumed the better part of the past decade.
Having a new keeper between the pipes is a big adjustment for any team, but the hope is that bringing back several key defenders will help for a smoother transition.
"Our defensive unit has some experience (and) we’re hoping for some flair and creativity out of our new offensive players," Gagliardi said.
Among the returnees, defenders Annie Winkhart and Anna Soehnlen are two key faces who will be counted on early in the season as a lineup replacing more than half of its starters works to gel with an eye on being in top form by year’s end.
The start to the season has been a revealing one, to be sure. After opening with a 1-0 win over Revere in its home opener, Jackson recoded ties in its next two contests, albeit in drastically different fashions.
Four days after besting Revere, the Polar Bears battled to a 2-2 tie with Strongsville at home. It was a relatively high-scoring affair, one that suggested the creativity and flair Gagliardi is seeking from the new faces in the lineup is present even if having it show up consistently is another matter entirely for teams with new starters.
Three days after the first tie, however, a scoreless draw at North Royalton was a much more defensive match, one that saw the Polar Bears keep a clean sheet but also unable to find the back of the net. Forwards Izzy Arnold and Alexa Pecorelli, along with midfielder Jess Phillabaum, will be part of the group counted on to generate more attacks on goal in the weeks ahead.
Aside from an early league game against Lake and one against Canton McKinley on Sept. 12, Jackson doesn’t start league competition in earnest until Sept. 26, when it faces Green and unofficially kicks off the largest chunk of its league slate.
In between now and then, there are a few other Division I heavyweights on the schedule, including Hudson, Wadsworth and Walsh, all of which promise to test the Polar Bears and see if they truly can reload on the fly and keep their high standard of performance intact while overhauling their starting 11.
So far, the defense has shown that it can carry a bit of extra weight while the offense finds its form, but the Polar Bears would like to find a good balance between the two and not ask the back end of the formation to do too much over the course of the season.
There is depth on the roster and a deep pool of newcomers who are vying for a chance to contribute, but the question for Gagliardi and his staff will be which of those new faces are ready to play varsity minutes and can handle the pressure of being put into the mix for a team with lofty expectations.
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