Jackson primed for another playoff run

  • David Pan<br>Enterprise sports editor
  • Friday, February 29, 2008 10:50am

MILL CREEK — The secret is out.

A year ago, the Jackson girls soccer team was considered a middle-of-the-pack squad that was coming off a pair of sub .500 seasons.

But much to everyone’s surprise, except perhaps to themselves, the Timberwolves won a share of the Western Conference South Division championship with Edmonds-Woodway and advanced to the district playoffs.

The chances Jackson, which finished up with a 13-4 overall record, will be able to sneak up on anyone this season appear remote since the Wolfpack have seven key players back from last year’s team. At the Wesco coaches’ meeting, the Wolfpack’s returning talent was one of the topics of conversation.

Expectations are running high among the Timberwolves.

“The pressure is on this group,” second-year coach Michael Bartley said. “We have so many returning players, they’re feeling it. We can tell we’re well-scouted already. When we played down at Skyline they knew who Dani (Oster) was and they knew who (Kaley) Mitchell was and they were marking them out of the game right away.”

Though they outshot Skyline 17-2, Jackson ended up losing 2-1 on a penalty kick in the 75th minute in last week’s opener. The defeat was against a non-league opponent but it still upset the players.

“Our first loss was pretty disappointing, but I think we’re going to take that and turn that around and really make that a benefit to us,” said senior forward Mitchell. “These girls hate losing, so when we lose it’s a huge deal to us. If you have a team that hates losing then you’re going to be winners no matter what.”

In many ways, what’s motivating the team is a desire to get back to the playoffs and vanquish the memories of the 3-1 district playoff loss to Snohomish, which ended Jackson’s season.

Bartley doesn’t need to remind any of the players about the loss.

“What’s nice about it is almost all of them, except for the four freshmen, remember that game,” he said. “It’s something we’re working towards. It’s a goal in their heads — to get to that point and win and not lose. That is what is driving them right now.”

If the Timberwolves make the playoffs, they feel they will be better prepared to handle the pressures of the postseason.

The playoffs were a new experience for Jackson last year.

“We didn’t know how to prepare exactly,” Oster said. “We were just so excited being there instead of looking for where we were headed. This year we know what to expect. We know what’s going to happen and we’ve already experienced the feeling of nerves. We’re going to get past that this year.”

Jackson doesn’t appear to have any glaring weaknesses, at least in the starting lineup.

The Timberwolves have good speed in the midfield and up front along with size in the middle and back in the defense, according to Bartley.

Sophomore Dee Wood, who saw some playing time last year, is taking over at goalkeeper.

“She’s a tall keeper, a very strong keeper,” Bartley said. “I think we’ve reloaded quite well.”

The Wolfpack lost a couple of key players in the backline, who provided vocal leadership. So far no one has stepped in to fill those roles but it is still early in the season.

Bartley attributed part of the reason for the loss in the opener to a lack of vocal leadership on the field.

“In the last game when we struggled, we went quiet,” he said. “So I’m expecting the older kids to start leading and they need to do that on the field and if they do that, we’re going to take off. We’ll do well.”

Bartley’s one area of concern is the Wolfpack’s lack of experience on the bench, which includes four freshmen.

Mitchell has confidence in the younger players.

“If we had these freshmen on the bench starting, we’d be fine,” she said.

The freshmen actually are fitting in well with the team; what Bartley is still looking for is the development of more team chemistry.

Regardless of how the freshmen meld into the team, Jackson likely will be operating from a position of strength as most of its opponents make adjustments.

“Our midfield is really strong,” Oster said. “I know they’re going to make changes so that they can try and shut us down. We’re just going to have to be focused and play our game. It’s good that we’re making them change to us, instead of us changing to them.”

Jackson’s success last season has energized the support the team has received. The arrival of Bartley in some ways marked the rebirth of the program.

“We have so much more support from the school,” senior defender Katie Walden said. “People know who we are. People from other schools know who we are.”

Everything appears to be coming together and Mitchell expects the Wolfpack to build on last year’s success.

“We have the coaches. We have the players. We have the talent,” she said. “We have the mentality to be there (playoffs). We have the inspiration. We’ve just got to get it done now.”

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