EVERETT — Success has been a habit for the Jackson girls soccer team in recent years, but its 2016 season really took off when the Timberwolves realized that they couldn’t take that success for granted at any point.
Jackson won its 12th consecutive game Tuesday, defeating Union 2-1 in a 4A state tournament first-round game at Everett Memorial Stadium. The Timberwolves will play the winner of Wednesday’s game between Skyline and Puyallup in a quarterfinal contest this weekend.
“These girls have had a lot of laurels during the past few years,” said Jackson coach Sarah Smart. “At the start of the season, they realized that it was on them to perform, it was on them to work hard. They put in the effort, and (during the streak) they’re showing intensity and pressuring (opponents) and chasing down loose balls. We’re forcing other teams on their heels, and we’re capitalizing.”
The Timberwolves (15-2-3) came into Tuesday’s game as the 4A District 1 champion and No. 1 seed, while Union entered as the No. 5 seed from Districts 3/4. But the Timberwolves had to work hard to avoid the upset.
With time dwindling in the second half, freshman Katie Cheng poked in a rebound after a Timberwolves shot attempt hit the top crossbar, giving Jackson a 2-1 lead in the 70th minute.
“She’s a gritty player,” Smart said. “She’s got a toughness to her. The fact that she’s a freshman and several years younger than anyone else just isn’t on her radar. She can hang with anyone.”
The first half didn’t feature a lot of shots, but both teams had several decent looks at the goal. It was clear that Union was trying to set up forward MaKayla Woods for scoring opportunities, and while she was able to break free at times and get the ball at other times, she rarely was able to do both at the same time thanks to the Timberwolves’ defense.
The Timberwolves converted in the 16th minute when forward Rikki Myers scored from about 10 yards out on a set piece to give Jackson a 1-0 lead.
It didn’t take the Titans long to get things going in the second half. A few seconds after the whistle, Woods collected the ball about 20 yards out close to the near sideline, weaved her way through a couple of Timberwolves defenders and shot the ball past Jackson goalie Kayleigh Sedlacek to tie the game at 1-1 with about 30 seconds gone in the half.
But the Timberwolves didn’t allow themselves to get down.
“Thirty seconds into the second half, their best player scores a goal to tie the game, but we responded to adversity in a great way,” Smart said.
Smart is a first-year head coach, but previously was a Timberwolves assistant, so she knows better than anyone about the tradition of the program and the talent of her players.
“The joke around here is that anyone can do well as (Jackson’s) coach, but I’d like to think I had something to do (with the success),” she said, laughing. “(My first year as head coach) has been awesome. I’ve got an amazing group of athletes who really take ownership of the team.”