Lauro, Smink, McKown sparking undefeated Jackson Memorial girls’ soccer team

Jackson Memorial girls' soccer players Natalie Knauf, left, and Jessica Smink, right, pose for a photo after a practice on Aug. 23 in Jackson Township.
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Jackson Memorial girls' soccer players Natalie Knauf, left, and Jessica Smink, right, pose for a photo after a practice on Aug. 23 in Jackson Township.

The Jackson Memorial High School girls’ soccer team is 12-0 because it’s a complete unit.

But the reality is, in most games the Jaguars only need to score one goal, two at most.

Their defense is that dominant, and the biggest reason why they are still undefeated into October.

“It’s a collective team effort,” said Jackson Memorial coach Sean Bayha. “But it starts with defense.”

And the defense starts with a trio of returning starters.

Junior center back Krista Lauro is already a third-year starter. Senior center back Jessica Smink earned her spot last fall. And sophomore goalkeeper Brooke McKown is playing full-time after splitting starts a year ago.

All three players are elite, too.

Lauro is committed to play Division 1 soccer at Towson University with a full year and a half left of high school. Smink is committed to play Division 3 soccer at Rowan University despite missing most of her sophomore year with an injury. And McKown started on a good team, Jackson Memorial went 9-7-2 last year, as a freshman and is playing full-time on a great team as a sophomore.

The trio has made it nearly impossible to create offense in Jackson Memorial’s box.

“Lauro and Smink are physical and they have size, skill and are very smart,” Bayha said. “They are vocal leaders and organizers.”

“Plus they give 100 percent every time they go out there,” he added. 

McKown is talented and experienced in varsity type settings. In addition to playing last year, she plays year-round for the Players Development Academy in Somerset.

So this year has not necessarily presented a huge learning curve for her. But McKown did need to improve in one key area: Vocal leadership.

It does not matter how old the goalie is. She has to be vocal because she plays behind her defenders and has a better view of the field.

“She’s much more vocal in the back than she was last year,” Bayha said.

The Jaguars have the second most power points in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 4 section, behind another undefeated team in Eastern Regional High School. Jackson Memorial and Eastern will be the top contenders for the state sectional title this November.

With its elite defense, Jackson Memorial will be able to stay with any opponent. But its offense may put it over the top.

The Jags can score, too. They have 47 goals in 12 games, nearly four per game.

Senior forward Natalie Knauf, with her nine goals and nine assists this fall, leads an electric and multi-faceted attack. Nearly every Jackson Memorial regular is a solid varsity scoring threat.

Senior Lyndsi Beal, junior Lauren Dellegrippo, junior Madison Faulkner, sophomore Victoria Pungello, junior Hannah Reese and junior Jessica Wanzor have all gotten on the score sheet multiple times. Even Smink and Lauro have recorded five goals and six assists from defense, respectively.

Jackson Memorial does not have a weakness. The team is a collection of strengths. It’s a team, in other words.

“We have good players,” Bayha said. “The girls work well together, give great effort and have good communication.”