Jaguars rebound after tough start to 2021 soccer season

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Jackson Memorial High School girls soccer player Kate Bryant dribbles the ball into the St. Rose zone during a game played on Oct. 8 in Wall. Jackson Memorial won in double overtime by the score of 2-1.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School girls soccer player Victoria Pungello fends off St. Rose's Julianna Conte for the loose ball during a game played on Oct. 8 in Wall. Pungello scored a goal in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School girls soccer player Madelyn O'Neill kicks the ball up the field during a game against St. Rose on Oct. 8 in Wall. Jackson Memorial won 2-1 in double overtime.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School girls soccer player Sydney Jacques takes a shot on net during a game against St. Rose on Oct. 8 in Wall. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School girls soccer player Kate Bryant dribbles the ball into the St. Rose zone during a game played on Oct. 8 in Wall. Jackson Memorial won in double overtime by the score of 2-1.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School girls soccer player Victoria Pungello fends off St. Rose's Julianna Conte for the loose ball during a game played on Oct. 8 in Wall. Pungello scored a goal in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School girls soccer player Madelyn O'Neill kicks the ball up the field during a game against St. Rose on Oct. 8 in Wall. Jackson Memorial won 2-1 in double overtime.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School girls soccer player Sydney Jacques takes a shot on net during a game against St. Rose on Oct. 8 in Wall. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

JACKSON – It was not the start to the 2021 season that Coach Sean Bayha and the players on the Jackson Memorial High School girls soccer team had envisioned.

Injuries, three losses by one goal and several players being sidelined for two weeks due to COVID-19 safety guidelines all factored into an 0-5 start. This was looking like a lost season for the Jaguars, who went 13-2-1 in 2020.

However, the determined players righted the ship over the last few weeks, going 5-1-1 in their next seven matches to give themselves a chance to earn a berth in the Shore Conference Tournament.

“They just didn’t quit,” Bayha said. “Other teams in that situation go from being 0-5 to being 0-10 and that wasn’t us. The girls don’t quit. They are a great group to be around.”

After starting 0-5, the Jaguars got their first win on Sept. 30 with a 5-2 victory over Toms River South. That victory sparked a five-game win streak that helped the team even its record at 5-5. A loss and a tie followed in the next two contests.

Senior captain Victoria Pungello scored three goals in the win against Toms River South. During the team’s five-match win streak, Pungello scored five goals and added two assists.

“No senior wants to start the season 0-5,” Pungello said. “All of the seniors got together and we all agreed this is still our season and we didn’t want it to end early. We got the whole team on our side and it’s been rolling in the right direction. We just have to keep pushing forward.”

Junior Chloe Messer contributed to the Jaguars’ effort with two goals and two assists during the win streak. As of Oct. 10, Messer and sophomore Renee Wanzor had each scored three goals this season.

The Jaguars’ fifth win came in dramatic fashion against St. Rose High School of Belmar on Oct. 8 in a match that was played in Wall Township.

The teams battled to a 1-1 tie in regulation and were still tied after the first 10-minute overtime period. A second 10-minute overtime would end with a game-winning “golden goal” or the teams still tied.

The Jaguars knew a tie would not help them in their pursuit of a bid to the Shore Conference Tournament and put the pedal to the metal in the second overtime.

With 3:44 to play, senior Bella Yates delivered the “golden goal” to secure a 2-1 victory.

Yates was in the right place at the right time as the ball found its way to her when it came off the foot of teammate Madison Arico in the box. Yates took advantage of the opportunity and netted her first career varsity goal to win the match.

“It feels incredible,” Yates said. “We just had to get that goal. Little things just weren’t working and it finally did for us and I hope it continues to work.”

On Oct. 8, Jackson Memorial fell in double overtime to Red Bank Catholic, 2-1. Wanzor scored for the Jaguars and goalie Brooke McKown kept her team in the match with 18 saves.

Jackson Memorial (5-6-1) will play Saint John Vianney on Oct. 11 and Southern Regional on Oct. 12. The Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting will take place on Oct. 13. The team is trying to reach the .500 mark.

The fact that the Jaguars still have a chance to reach the conference tournament after their rough start is all thanks to the players, Bayha said, adding that he is proud of the way they have overcome adversity and believes they will have the confidence to make a run in the state sectional tournament.

“The tenacity these girls have is great,” Bayha said. “They never give up. We have great senior leadership in this group.”