Jackson secures soccer berth

  • Mike Cane<br>For the Enterprise
  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 11:03am

Several months ago, standing before his new team for the first time, Michael Bartley made a bold, unexpected prediction: “You are going to win the league.”

Back then, the first-year Jackson girls soccer coach’s prophecy seemed more than slightly outlandish.

Examine the facts: in 2002, Jackson won just three games and mustered an anemic six goals. So how could a team that had struggled so much expect to pull a 180 so quickly?

At the time, the Timberwolves — likely incredulously pondering the same question — simply humored Bartley: “OK, sure.”

Today, Bartley and the Timberwolves can laugh about that moment. They’ve earned it.

Jackson is remarkably close to achieving Bartley’s seemingly impossible goal. Going into their final game of the regular season, the Timberwolves were 12-3 overall and 7-1 in the Western Conference South Division, good for a first-place tie with Edmonds-Woodway.

Jackson was scheduled to host Mountlake Terrace on Wednesday. A Jackson win or tie and an E-W loss would give the Timberwolves the Wesco South crown (E-W holds the season tiebreaker through head-to-head competition).

Either way, Jackson will host a first-round playoff game as the Wesco South’s No. 1 or No. 2 seed when the Northwest District 4A tournament begins Nov. 4.

Much of Jackson’s success is due to an emerging closeness between players, Bartley said. The Timberwolves clinched a district berth Oct. 23 with a last-minute goal in a 2-1 double-overtime victory at Lynnwood.

After the thrilling win, instead of catching a ride with parents or grouping off into cliquish car pools, every Jackson player piled into the normally near-vacant bus for a celebratory ride back to Mill Creek.

Throughout the season, Jackson players strengthened their connections at team dinners. This week they planned to visit a haunted house and maybe traverse a local corn maze.

These Timberwolves are bonding, Bartley said, and the positive relationships translate to the field.

“The chemistry is good,” he said. “They just like hanging together.”

Winning always helps, too, Bartley added, and Jackson’s stifling defense has been key. Goalkeeper Jen Shropshire, a senior captain, has been reliable in net, while Katie Walden, Lauren Pirnke, Andra Rubines, Farrah Ragsdale and Laura Austell have helped muffle opposing offenses.

As they have all year, Dani Oster and Kaley Mitchell fueled Jackson’s offense in the Lynnwood game. Oster scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute off of a pass from Mitchell. Mitchell also assisted on teammate Katie Ellis’ goal in the 52nd minute.

Mitchell and Oster, the team’s leading scorers, are Bartley’s go-to combination. When Jackson desperately needs a goal, he said he knows the duo will create instant offense.

“They understand each other really well,” Bartley said. “Their preparation and what they’ve done themselves … … they’ve gone to camps, done the little things.

“You’ll see them up front when we need a goal. I have a lot of faith in Kaley and Dani to find the net.”

With the district playoffs looming, Bartley and his assistants have been scouting Wesco North teams.

Bartley’s first prediction, however improbable it seemed at the time, has already come true. The coach believes even higher honors are attainable.

“They’re kind of in the middle of a miracle season,” Bartley said. “Anything can happen.

“I think we could rise to the occasion and go (to state). We haven’t played poorly this year.”

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