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Jackson boys soccer adds more hardware in run to regional

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

JACKSON TWP.   Telling someone that the Jackson Polar Bears are in the final 16 in the Division I state soccer tournament isn’t likely to surprise them in any year, pandemic or not.

As one of the most consistent programs in Northeast Ohio, they’ve won plenty of big games, Federal League titles and tournament contests. So in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a season that has been full of unusual happenings, the usual happened as the Polar Bears made their way to a Division I regional final against defending state champion St. Ignatius.

Ethan Corsi (6) of Jackson is slowed down by Luciano Pechota (11) of Saint Ignatius during their DI regional final at Jackson on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.

Although Jackson was unable to take down the Wildcats in a 6-1 loss that included the absence of leading scorer Evan Wilson, a 15-4-2 record and a share of the Federal League title as well as a district championship added more hardware to the program’s trophy case.

“It’s always going to be a challenge when you get that far in the tournament, especially against an opponent like St. Ignatius, but it’s an incredibly big accomplishment to get there,” Jackson head coach Michael Biros said.

The team’s eight seniors have been part of some major moments during their time with the program and while Biros expects several of them to play at the college level, the veteran coach noted that the pandemic has restricted recruiting for college programs and in a way, allowed high school players to focus more on their senior seasons than on the recruiting process.

Biros also noted that having worked in the district for a long time, he’s worked with the seniors for years and been able to see the progress they’ve made from the early days of learning the game until now.

“For me it’s just watching young children grow into young men and it’s been a fantastic journey with them. I’ve known most of them since they were 6 or 7 years old and to see them become responsible young adults and student athletes has been awesome,” Biros said. “As a group they’ve paved a path as bringing a professional, consistent approach at practice with them every day.”

Among that senior class is Wilson, a forward who set the single-season school record with 25 goals this fall. Wilson’s absence in the St. Ignatius game may not have been the deciding factor, but after sustaining a shoulder injury in a regional semifinal win over Hudson, he was forced to watch from the sidelines as his team took on its toughest test of the season.

“Nobody was downtrodden or thinking we couldn’t do the job, and we have a lot of trust everybody to be able to get the job done and everybody needed to pick up the slack,” Biros said.

Even with Wilson, St. Ignatius would have been a formidable foe and once the Wildcats got out to an early lead, they were able to keep the pressure on and claim the win. Still, reaching the regional tournament for the third time in the past five seasons and the regional final for the first time since 2016 is a feat few programs can match. With soccer alumni on staff who have been part of that past success and other alumni still connected to the program in various ways – not to mention the championship seasons commemorated on banners hanging on the field at Neitzelt Stadium – current Jackson players are well-aware of their team’s championship lineage.

This season’s tournament run was set up in part by a late season result that while unexpected, may have helped put the current pack of Polar Bears in the right frame of mind to excel in the tournament.

“Obviously as you get deeper in tournament drama picks up, but we dropped tough match against Perry near the end of the season when they played really well … we came away understanding we can’t just step on the field and do what we always do and expect to win,” Biros said. “But it caused us to raise our level for the last game of season and on into the tournament.”

One of the results to emerge from that revised mindset was a comeback win over Hudson in the regional semifinals, a victory that saw Wilson once again help spark the offense before suffering the shoulder injury that would knock him out for the regional final. Asked what sets his senior striker apart, Biros pointed to Wilson’s well-rounded game that includes being an effective scorer off of set pieces as well as in the run of play and on penalty kicks. That diverse arsenal powered Wilson’s record-setting season and in the process, tacked on another success of success for a program that has established itself as one of the area’s best.

So while the ending wasn’t what the Polar Bears would have hoped for as they fell in the regional final on their home turf, battling their way deep into the tournament in a most unusual season is an experience and a time that they’re likely to remember for a long while. It’s also a big part of the reason why, when next season rolls around, the local soccer community won’t be surprised to see the guys in purple and gold once again piling up wins and competing for league and postseason supremacy.