Jackson Memorial High School is 8-0 about halfway through the boys’ soccer season. The Jaguars have outscored their opponents, 27-8.
An undefeated regular season is real talk, at least for the media, not, of course, for the Jaguars themselves.
So, Jackson Memorial coach Steve Bado, how are things going so far?
“Not bad,” Bado said.
Not bad indeed.
The Jaguars were supposed to be really good this fall, but not this good, this early. After all, they lost three essential players from their 2018 team that went 15-3-1 and got all the way to the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament final, losing to Washington Township High School, 2-1.
Those three players were Jackson Memorial’s top two scorers, Joe Schlageter, now playing for The College of New Jersey, and Dan Russo, now playing in the New York Red Bulls Academy, and All-New Jersey goalkeeper Nick Kinzler, now playing for Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Jackson Memorial still returned seven other starters and a bunch of solid bench players from last fall, but still, it’s hard to replace your best scorers and your all-state goalkeeper.
Unless you’re Jackson Memorial.
The Jaguars have replaced their standouts with a combination of returning talent and precocious newcomers.
Their new goalie, sophomore Charlie Harrison, has a shutout and six one goal sheets on his 2019 resume. Harrison has been “pretty good,” Bado said, especially for a sophomore.
But the coach views Harrison’s back line as the foundation of Jackson Memorial’s team.
The group includes three returning starters in Ronnie Bantang, a 2018 All-NJ selection, Chase Olejarz, a 2018 All-Ocean County selection, and Connor Lucas. It also has a senior, Frank Saverese, who is finally getting his chance to start after serving as a sub the past two years.
“Guys are feeding off them,” Bado said.
But you could argue that Jackson Memorial’s offense is the strength of the team. The Jaguars are scoring more than three goals per game. No opponent has held them under two in a game.
Without Schlageter and Russo, Jackson Memorial is “scoring by committee, which is good,” Bado said.
New starter Tyler Howlett has four goals and a bunch of assists. Returning starter Drew Walenty has four goals, all game winners. New starter Steve Bado Jr. has used his speed to draw defenders and open the field for his teammates.
First year midfield starter Gianluca Gruosso and returning starter Ed Jacoby have been crucial to Jackson Memorial’s possession effort. New starter Evan Walenty, Drew’s little brother, has also “had a great impact” up front, Bado said.
It’s a lineup of seven seniors, a junior and three sophomores, a lot of whom have played together, but some of whom haven’t. Yet it’s all coming together.
Even Bado Sr. will admit that.
“Things are going pretty good,” he said.
But while the Jags may be perfect in the standings, they are not yet perfect on the pitch.
“We just have to get better as the season goes on,” Bado said.