Coming off the team’s first Final Four appearance in program history, Jackson girls soccer came away with a dominant victory over Parkway South at 2-0 at home to start the 2019 campaign.
The Indians defense only allowed Parkway South to have one shot attempt, which did not happen until the 71st minute. Jackson finished with a total of 17 shots on goal.
“I felt like our defenders did a phenomenal job tonight,” Jackson head coach Justin McMullen said. “From all the way around the field we prevented things. [Parkway South] likes to play the ball over the top, and we prevented that from the midfield and forwards. We swarmed to the ball tonight — that was an emphasis. We knew we were going to have a little trouble getting in sync just because we haven’t practiced a lot together.”
Jackson’s defense is led by seniors Laura Bertrand and Taylor Nelson, who Coach McMullen believes is the best center back duo in the area. Nelson moved to defense this season after being a three-year starter in the midfield, while Bertrand has been one of the Indians mainstays on defense for her entire career.
“I thought those two communicated really well — not just among each other but all the way up the field,” Coach McMullen said. “They were kind of helping the forwards out as well and giving the midfielders direction once they received the ball. That was one thing we knew we were going to get [from them], but they did a really good job of that in their first game of the season.”
The two are also joined by junior Cameron Pieper, who transferred from Ft. Zumwalt North. Sophomore Grace Crowden also showed off her defensive abilities in Friday night’s game.
Crowden and Pieper displayed their abilities with several steals throughout the game as well as moving the ball back up field. This allowed Jackson’s offense to maintain possession throughout the majority of the match because of these efforts.
“[Crowden] was all over the field — Grace covers a lot of area,” Coach McMullen said. “She’s taken it upon herself to ask a lot of questions, and she feels really comfortable in the situation. [Pieper] looked phenomenal — she looked like she’d been with the team for three years. We’re really excited to have Cami, and tonight she did some really good things when she won the ball.”
The Indians have multiple players from the basketball team, who finished the season March 9 and started practicing for soccer March 11.
One of those players include senior Mikala “Mik” Liley, who picked up all-conference and all-district honors as a member of the basketball team. She is also one of Jackson’s two returning all-state players from last year’s soccer team.
The other returning all-state honoree is fellow senior Natalie Miller, who only plays soccer, and the two showed they didn’t need much time to rebuild their chemistry.
Miller, who led the Indians in goals with 23 and also had 10 assists last season, scored Jackson’s first goal of the year in the 22nd minute off a pass from Liley.
The Indians scored their second and final goal in the 49th minute when Miller found Liley with a cross pass, which Mik booted in the top of the net and past Parkway South goalkeeper Payton Gaughan. Liley scored 17 goals and came up with 12 assists for Jackson in 2018.
“They were looking for each other the last couple of days in practice,” McMullen said. “[They] just made the eye contact and trusted each other. We saw a couple times they were just a little bit off, but anytime you can return two all-state players — that’s a luxury to have.”
Starting at forward on the opposite side of Natalie is her younger sister sophomore Katelyn Miller, who was unable to come up with a goal of her own in the match. She finished with four shots on goal, and Coach McMullen believes the sisters can become quite the duo once they are in sync.
“They’re two players that like to keep the ball on the opponent’s side,” McMullen said. “They don’t allow opponents to get any free balls out — they win the ball back. Attacking wise when we can get them going together and making runs off of each other, like, we’re going to be really dangerous.”
Katelyn primarily started as a defender for Jackson last season, but she was able to score eight goals and had four assists. Natalie joined her sister on defense during the Indians postseason run.
Jackson has the week off from playing any games, which McMullen and the rest of the coaching staff planned since they knew the basketball team was going to play into March.
“Now we’ve got a week of training — we have a couple of nicks and bruises we can get healthy because the following week we have Saxony,” McMullen said. “We follow that up with the Parkway Showcase, which we’re going to see some really good teams, so that next week we’re going to have three really good matches. Hopefully we get more fluent on offense.”