“Run Jalen, run” could be the title of the story of Kannapolis’ A.L. Brown boys soccer team this year.Jalen Jackson, a junior forward, has led the Wonders in scoring the past two seasons by using his superior speed to outrun defenders. And his coach thinks Jackson could increase his goal production if he ran even more.But last year as he has focused on being a more complete player, Jackson started deferring scoring opportunities to his teammates. Kannapolis coach Sean Szakal, however, said that there’s still no better sight than Jackson getting loose behind a defense and ripping a shot past an opposing goalkeeper.Encouraged by a core group of players that he has been teamed with since middle school, Jackson likes to think the Wonders have a chance to reach the state playoffs; it would be their first time since 1995. Moving to the MECKA 4A conference won’t make it any easier with such opponents as Hough, North Mecklenburg and Mallard Creek on the league schedule.A season-opening 2-0 victory over South Rowan was encouraging. Jackson scored both the Wonders’ goals. He entered the season with 41 goals over his two-year varsity career.“I just want to play efficiently,” said Jackson. “I want to score goals, but I want the team to win and make the playoffs. And if we make it there, I want us to go far. It should be tougher against the 4A teams, but I accept the challenge.”The son of Curtis and Gretchen Riddick, Jackson’s high expectations started in his seventh-grade year, when his Kannapolis Middle School team won the conference championship. The Eagles scored a 1-0 victory over Concord in the championship match to finish with a 9-0-1 record.Jackson and some of his A.L. Brown teammates – juniors Zac Yost, Noah Craddock, Rodrigo Canales and Johnny Yang, and senior Marco Gonzales – have been playing varsity for three years. He credits them with providing him with chances that turned him into a scoring machine.The Wonders scored 53 goals that season, and Jackson scored 18 of them. His first hat trick, at home against Mount Pleasant Oct. 5, was a sign of things to come.Jackson developed a reputation for being able to time his runs to zip past the last defenders and free himself up in the open field. Teammates had a knack for finding him open and setting him up for shots.“Everybody has a role on the team,” said Szakal. “Jalen has always been the finisher. (His teammates) don’t care who gets the goal. They celebrate the team’s goal.”Jackson became known for his goal-scoring, but some people – including Jackson – realized that he played his entire freshman season without assisting on any other goals. He set out in his sophomore season to change that.Jackson’s skill set didn’t change. He often was still the fastest player on the field. But if he were going to become a more complete player, he thought it would mean getting his teammates more involved on offense.As a sophomore, Jackson scored 23 goals, but he also chipped in with five assists. He was named to the all-region team and earned all-South Piedmont 3A honors for the second straight year.But the Wonders’ record slipped last season. In 2011, they finished 6-8 in the conference and were one win away from making the state playoffs. Last year, Kannapolis was 7-15-1 overall and 2-12 in the SPC.“(This group) is on the beginning side of this building that we’re doing,” said Szakal. “The quality of soccer is getting better.”
Monday, Sep. 02, 2013
A.L. Brown Wonders’ focus is on being ‘complete’ player
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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