STRATFORD—When Owen Jaekle takes the field on Monday afternoon for Bunnell High’s Class L boys soccer state tournament game against Torrington, he won’t be alone.
Yes, he’ll have his 10 teammates on the field with him in addition to a bench full of supporters and a crowd that will be behind him, too.
But, the goal, the place Jaekle, a senior, has called home for most of his soccer career, can still be a lonely place.
It takes a special personality to be a goalkeeper, a strong person with the ability to put the past behind them and move forward.
Let in a goal and the best goalkeeper simply learns a lesson, grabs the ball, gets it back out to midfield and looks ahead.
The game goes on. Life goes on.
A year ago—one year and 11 days to be exact—Jaekle suffered the biggest loss of his life.
His mother, Kristin, passed away on Oct. 31, 2018, after a decade-long battle with ovarian cancer.
“Yeah, she definitely was a fighter,” Jaekle said last week after a practice to prepare for the Bulldogs’ first-round game. “She was holding on for us. I’ve been trying to live up to that part of her legacy.”
Kristin Jaekle’s death left Team Jaekle staggered, but together. Her husband, Bob, and their sons, Davis, Maxwell and Owen, were rocked by the loss, but they also knew they had to move forward.
Owen Jaekle epitomized that part of his mom on the soccer field.
One week before her death, when she was put into a hospice facility to live out her final days, the Bunnell keeper had a choice to make.
The Bulldogs, winless at the time, were facing cross-town rival Stratford in the final game of the season.
Jaekle had to decide if he was going to play or stay by his mother’s side.
“Having heard the news the night before was definitely rough,” Jaekle recalled. “But walking onto that field during announcements, all that was going through my head was this game is for her.”
When the final buzzer sounded, the score and the scene captured both the magnitude and emotion of the moment: Jaekle dropping to his knees as he was mobbed by teammates with the final score reading Bulldogs 1, Red Devils 0.
“After the game, everybody just stormed over to me because they knew how important that game was to me,” he said. “It was a great feeling knowing I had that kind of support.”
The games go on. Life goes on.
That’s why even after his mother passed away, Jaekle has tried to move forward while still embracing the memory of the woman he loved so much.
“It has been hard, but I just have to remember that she wouldn’t want me to be down and let what happened affect me for the rest of my life,” Jaekle said. “She would have wanted me to go out there and do better things.”
On the Bunnell soccer pitch, Jaekle has definitely gone and done that.
Despite being handed an entirely new defense in front of him, Bunnell’s last line of defense has helped the Bulldogs to an 8-4-4 regular season along with an SWC tournament berth and Monday’s state tournament appearance.
Over the last 320 minutes of the regular season, Jaekle only gave up a single goal.
“He’s been huge for us,” Bunnell coach Joe Baccielo said. “He’s always been kind of even-keel and had a calmness about him, which helps him as a goalkeeper. He never gets too high or too low. But for a young kid who has been through everything he’s been through over the last year, and to play so well, it speaks to him not just as a player but as a person, as well.”
Jaekle knows he’s not doing it alone.
The defense in front of him—Anthony Pereira and Justin Ogazi on the wings and Tim Fraedrich and Michael Perry in the middle—has also been key to Bunnell’s success.
“(Fraedrich and Perry), they are my brick walls,” Jaekle said. “They’re my Goalie Juniors. They stop every person that goes on a run.”
Jaekle’s communication skills have also grown, his voice now a commanding presence in the back.
“I used to hear myself just shouting words,” the goalie admitted.
“He’s come into his own,” Baccielo said. “He’s more confident not just in terms of being a leader and playing well himself, but helping his teammates play well and get into the right position. You can tell he’s certainly more comfortable in that aspect.”
Jaekle started playing soccer in Shelton and continued after the family moved to Stratford.
While many of his teammates were clamoring for a shot at playing offense and scoring goals, Jaekle was always happy on the defensive end of the field.
One day, he was asked to play in goal and found a home.
“They asked me to step in goal and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” he recalled. “I’ve always liked playing defense.”
He soon learned the lesson that goalkeepers need to live by: Have a short memory, especially after giving up a goal.
“I’m always upset when I let a goal in, especially if I know there was something I could have done,” he said. “But I’ve let in so many throughout the time I’ve played soccer that now it’s like ok, I can’t let it bother me. I have to just keep playing because there’s more time left in the game and my team is going to need me.”
The game goes on. Life goes on.
Look to the future but keep the past close to heart.
When Jaekle sets foot on Mastroni Field as Bunnell’s last line of defense against Torrington, he’s going to be wearing a pair of teal-colored socks—just as he has for every game this season.
Those are the colors that have been embraced in the fight against ovarian cancer, so Jaekle knows he won’t be alone in goal.
“She’s with me every time I go out there,” he said.
Truth be told, Kristin Jaekle will be with her youngest son for the rest of his life.
(On the Sidelines is a regularly featured column written by Stratford Sports Scene founder and publisher John Nash)
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