Jackson Memorial boys’ soccer looks like complete team

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Jackson Memorial High School boasts a boys’ soccer lineup full of strengths.

Joe Schlageter and Dan Russo are a solid duo in the offensive third. Center back Ben Schnaak and goalkeeper Nick Kinzler form an impenetrable wall in the defensive third. Around Schnaak, sweeper Ronald Bantang, right fullback Chase Olejarz and left fullback Connor Lucas have been “lights out,” said Jackson Memorial coach Steve Bado.

The Jaguars’ midfielders may not stand out among their dynamic teammates. But they are really good at transitioning from defense to offense.

With this skillful and balanced lineup, Jackson Memorial is, not surprisingly, 7-0 overall and 3-0 in Shore Conference A South Division play.

The Jaguars also have an eye-opening 32-3 goal differential.

They appear well on their way to their second straight A South Division title. But Bado and his players have bigger goals this year.

Last fall, with most of the same players, Jackson Memorial lost in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament quarterfinals.

In the state sectional tournament, Bado’s club earned the top seed. Jackson Memorial’s quarterfinal defeat to eighth-seeded Atlantic City High School, 2-1, was an upset.

That stunning loss in the state tournament is driving the Jaguars in 2018.

“I got a lot of guys returning. They believe in tradition and they’d like to win the A South again,” Bado said. “This team is real loyal to our five or six seniors and they want them to do well this last year. Things have been clicking.”

That last line is almost an understatement. The Jaguars have so many scoring options that they make it difficult for opponents to game plan.

Russo leads the team with seven goals, but he is just as capable as a distributor. The junior is also pacing Jackson Memorial in assists, with five. Schlageter is tied with Russo for the club lead in that category.

Beyond those players, Schnaak has emerged as a complete player, often running up from defense to help finish chances. He has five goals and three assists in 2018.

“He’s had an incredible season. He holds up the center of the defense but he also goes forward and produces on head balls, corner kicks and is dynamic in that fashion,” Bado said. “Ben has a sense of the game.”

Junior Gianluca Gruosso and senior Ben Patti have also developed into offensive threats, Gruosso as a scorer (three goals) and Patti as a distributor (three assists). Even a freshman, Steven Bado, the coach’s son, is contributing in both ways, posting two goals and two assists.

Defensively, Jackson Memorial’s backs have played so well that Kinzler does not have to worry about many shots. But he has saved 17 of the 20 he’s faced.

“Off and on he’s made some big saves. But he makes every save he’s supposed to make, which makes us such a dangerous defensive team,” Bado said. “All of the defenders are playing well. The communication is there. They aren’t hesitant anymore. They are comfortable in their decisions. They’ve really come of age. Last year they shocked everybody. This year they are just doing their jobs.”

With Jackson Memorial, the only question seems to be, have they peaked too early? Bado does not think so. He thinks the Jaguars still need to go up a few levels.

“We can improve on different strengths as the season goes on. To beat teams like Holmdel (High School) and CBA (Christian Brothers Academy) down the stretch, we’re going to have to improve,” Bado said. “Then, in the state tournament, you have teams like Washington Township (High School), Cherokee (High School) and these big schools that are improving every day also.”