Jaguars Aiming To Net Another Championship Run

Jackson Memorial's Nick Kinzler sacrifices his body to make a save. (Photo courtesy of the Jackson Memorial High School boys soccer team

JACKSON – Steve Bado can’t get enough when it comes to coaching the Jackson Memorial High School boys soccer team.

“Every year is a new adventure for me,” he said. “I keep coming back. I love it. I love it.”

Bado, who played for two varsity seasons under legendary coach Mike Costa before graduating in 1990, has kept up the Jaguars’ winning tradition.

Now in his 14th season at the helm, Bado entered the 2018 campaign with a 161-94-2 career record – a record that includes three Shore Conference Class A South titles, four trips to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and a berth in the 2012 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship game. Jackson’s lone losing season under Bado was 2008.

Jackson Memorial’s Ben Schnaak controls the ball. (Photo courtesy of the Jackson Memorial High School boys soccer team)

And in 2012, Jackson set the school’s single-season win record as it was 23-2.

This year’s team is poised for another run at championships as it won its first seven matches, outscoring opponents 32-3 and posting five shutouts.

“I just think the Jackson kids are hard working kids,” said Bado, who coached the Jaguars’ junior varsity teams for 11 years. “They believe in tradition and loyalty and are all good friends. It was that way before me and we are lucky to continue that tradition. The boys appreciate the opportunity to play for a program like this. There are thousands of boys who don’t play for a team like this.”

Coming off a 17-4-1 season that included a Class A South title (11-2-1), the Jaguars entered 2018 facing plenty of pressure from their opponents. The Jaguars returned nine starters from their 2017 team.

“I think our boys feel the pressure,” Bado said. “The lucky thing about it is they are a year older and a year more experienced. We know every team is out to get us. The pressure is there, but I feel our experience puts us in a good situation to handle it.”

The team’s captains are senior midfielder Joe Schlageter, senior goal keeper Nick Kinzler and senior defensive center halfback Ben Patti.

Schlageter is a three-year varsity starter.

Jackson Memorial’s Ron Bantang awaits the ball. (Photo courtesy of the Jackson Memorial High School boys soccer team)

“He is very soccer savvy,” Bado said. “His positioning is good. His vision is excellent and he controls the center of the field. His leadership qualities have improved. He is in his last year and he is kicking it into a whole new gear.”

The 6-foot-4 Kinzler is in his third varsity season after splitting time with the varsity as a freshman.

“He is just lights out,” Bado said. “He is probably the best keeper in the Shore Conference. He allowed the second least amount of goals in the 47-team Shore Conference last season. He knows the game. He is willing to get better. He worked hard during the offseason. He has a good foot and is great in the air as he is big, but he is also good at getting to the ground. He is a very special goalie.”

Patti is a four-year varsity starter. He played outside halfback as a freshman and sophomore and competed at forward last season.

“He is versatile,” Bado said. “He is great in the middle of the field. He hit the weight room during the offseason and is much stronger physically. He wins a lot of the 50-50 balls. He gets more touches on the ball as he is in the middle of the field.”

Junior Ben Schnaak, shifted from right fullback to center fullback, has responded well to his new position. He is a three-year varsity starter.

Jackson Memorial’s Logan Lewis heads the ball. (Photo courtesy of the Jackson Memorial High School boys soccer team)

“He is a staple in our defense,” Bado said. “He is having a fabulous season. Not only is he great on defense, but he has netted either four five goals on set pieces as we push the ball up the field. His instincts are incredible on the ground and in the air. If there is a header to be won, he wins it. He jumps into the passing lanes.”

At sweeper is junior Ronald Bantang, a three-year varsity player who is in his second season as a starter.

“I have coached him since he was in middle school,” Bado said. “He is very steady, very coachable. He is a big kid at around 6-4. He is very fast and wins the balls that are in the air. He is a tough last line of defense for opposing teams to get past.”

The right fullback is junior Chase Olejarz, a three-year varsity player and a second-year varsity starter.

“He is a really tough kid who plays good stand up defense,” Bado said. “It’s tough for people to get past him as he positions his body really well.”

At left fullback is junior Connor Lucas. Now in his third varsity season, Lucas is a two-year varsity starter.

“His asset is his work ethic,” Bado said. “When he gets beat, he hustles back and wins the 50-50 balls.”

The right halfback is junior Ed Jacoby, a three-year varsity player and a second-year varsity starter.

Jackson Memorial’s Dan Russo, shown heading the ball, is dangerous on offense. (Photo courtesy of the Jackson Memorial High School boys soccer team)

“He brings a special flavor to the team,” Bado said. “He wrestles for Jackson and brings that toughness to the game. He is the steadiest guy on the field. He knows where he needs to be and he is strong.”

The left halfback is senior Logan Lewis, a three-year varsity player and a three-year varsity starter.

“He is a very strong, physical player who has incredible speed and incredible endurance,” Bado said. “He gets up and down the outside of the field and does not get tired.”

In the lineup at forward is junior Dan Russo, who netted 17 goals last season. He’s a three-year varsity starter.

“He is so soccer savvy,” Bado said. “He can score with his left foot and right foot. He is incredibly tough. He’s one of the top forwards in the state.”

A freshman forward is Bado’s son, Steve Bado.

Jackson Memorial’s Ben Patti (left) gains the advantage against an opponent. (Photo courtesy of the Jackson Memorial High School boys soccer team)

“Coaching him is different, but I guess it is pretty good,” Bado said. “He’s the fastest guy on the team. When he gets into the game, he can really motor. He opens up the field a little bit to give Russo and Schlageter some space to maneuver.”

At outside halfback and forward is sophomore Andrew Walenty, a first-year varsity player.

“He is very versatile, very quick and very athletic,” coach Bado said. “He has a very good touch on the ball. He brings a different dynamic when he either goes into the game off the bench or starts.”

Junior midfielder Gianluca Gruosso is valuable off the bench in his first varsity season.

“He has come in and given us great minutes,” coach Bado said. “He is very talented. For the amount of time he is in the game, he makes a great impact.”

Andrew Keating at times starts at forward in his fourth varsity season.

“He is a hard worker and he knows the system,” coach Bado said. “He has toughness. When there is a scrum in front of the goal, I like his toughness as he will go in and try to get a piece of the ball.”

Also making contributions are senior midfielder Richard Chan, senior goalkeeper Shaun Chornobroff, senior forward Basel Shousha, junior midfielder Trevor Cusick, junior midfielder Tyler Howlett, junior defender Frank Savarese, junior defender Steve Slusak, junior defender Anthony Mantello and freshman forwards Anthony Viola and Evan Walenty.

“We mix up our style of play a little bit,” coach Bado said. “We play a little bit of possession ball and a little bit of direct ball, depending on the team we play and the field conditions. Our guys adjust to the play. If we are on a smaller field, we have the ability to possess the ball and find the open gaps. When we are on artificial turf and the game is a little faster, we try to push the ball up the field a little quicker and play more direct ball.”

Coach Bado said the team is strong on offense and defense.

“We definitely have excelled,” he said. “We have always been a defensive juggernaut. This year, we have a little more balance between offense and defense.”

Assisted by Joe Pienkowski, Ray Cafara and Kevin McQuade, coach Bado said he enjoys working with the team.

“There is a light side to our team and a serious side, too,” said Bado, 46, a physical education, health and driver’s education teacher at Jackson. “The boys like to make me laugh as I am always so serious. It is nice to have fun. It is nice to redirect things and get serious when it is game time. The boys look at the banners and the championships and they want to be a part of the tradition.

“Our parents and administration are very supportive and that makes our jobs a lot easier.”

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Chris Christopher covers sports for Micromedia Publications Inc. with knowledge, pride and passion. His beats are the high school, college, professional, youth and recreational scenes. A three-time New Jersey Press Association award winner for sports writing, Christopher was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame in 2015 for his work in the media. The Lakewood resident enjoys taking walks in Ocean County Park and on the boardwalks in Ocean and Monmouth counties and rooting for the New York Mets.