For most of the calendar year, Jackson Stencel patrols the back line on the soccer pitch, closing down opposing offenses on the wing and sometimes moving the ball forward for crosses into the scoring box.
But for a couple months during the high school season each fall, the Evansville High junior moves up in the formation to become a prominent scoring threat.
From center or right back to attacking midfielder or forward, there is nothing cookie cutter about Stencel’s game.
He entered Saturday’s WIAA Division 3 regional final match at Platteville/Lancaster with 34 goals and nine assists this season. He is one of the top 15 goal-scorers in the state, according to statistics submitted to WisSports.net, and he helped Evansville to a second-place finish in the Rock Valley Conference and a No. 5 seed in the Blue Devils’ sectional.
But when the club season rolls around, Stencel will return to his spot at the back while playing for one of the top area teams, and he will look to once again advance within the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program.
“It just shows how versatile he is,” Evansville coach Kendall Buttchen said. “His first look is to get everyone else involved. Yeah, he has 34 goals on the season, and he could have a lot more, but when he has the ball he’s looking for other people. That’s what makes him special, the unselfishness.”
Stencel’s love for soccer began when he was just 3 years old. He started out watching his older sister, Megan, play and then would practice with her team as well as his own youth team.
He quickly built his skill level, but it took a while for him to realize just how good he was. In seventh grade, though, he began playing for Rush Soccer Club out of Madison and was chosen to participate in the ODP state team. From there, he advanced all the way through regional camp to an interregional event and made the national team for his age division. By that point, roughly 18 players at each age level are playing in front of national team coaches.
“I was really excited about that,” Stencel said. “Then I was like, maybe I’m good at this soccer thing.”
According to the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association website, Stencel, who now plays with the Madison 56ers, was one of three Wisconsin boys from the 2002 birth year to be selected out of the Midwest regional event in 2019, so he remains on the national radar.
While Stencel has always clearly possessed a natural ability, he and Buttchen both said he has been working hard to improve his tactical abilities.
“The technical and tactical side of the game is such a huge part of it,” Stencel said. “I missed out on that when I was a little younger, so that’s where I’m trying to grow. I want to read the game even better.”
As a freshman at Evansville, with a talented core of seniors on the field with him, Stencel was able to run around and by defenders. He finished with 21 goals and 20 assists in 22 matches.
But now, Stencel works on knowing when he should exert all his energy and when it might be smarter to conserve it for the long run. And he focuses on playing well within a system and formation.
“He’s a great role model and fits so well and buys in so well with what we’re trying to do,” Buttchen said. “And it’s not only on the field, but in the classroom, as well.”
Stencel believes the experience he gains in playing an attacking position at the high school level helps him when playing in a defensive spot the rest of the year, and vice versa.
“I almost have to flip a switch,” Stencel said. “Like, I’ve got to be here and score the goals, but when I’m club, I have to be able to defend and attack and think about it positionally.
“They allow me to attack and send crosses in and stuff. That’s my favorite position, because I get to defend and attack. I love standing a player up and getting the ball, that competition side of the game.
“The high school season allows me to work on my finishing and crossing. And then for club, I can bring that element but also the physicality at the back and winning balls in the midfield.”
Ultimately, Stencel would love nothing more than to help Evansville get closer and closer to its first-ever appearance at the WIAA state tournament.
His freshman year in 2017, the Blue Devils knocked off second-seeded McFarland to reach a D3 sectional final, where they lost to top-seeded Mount Horeb 2-0.
Evansville was a No. 7 seed a year ago—when Stencel scored 27 goals in 20 matches—and lost 1-0 to second-seeded Edgewood in a regional final.
Stencel’s junior season with the Blue Devils ended on the same stage Saturday, with a 4-2 loss at Platteville.
“My freshman year, I was blessed with the opportunity to play with (those seniors),” Stencel said. “That helped me grow my game.
“Now we’ve got a lot of really good, young kids coming up. I feel like we have the potential to grow. In the past, we relied on our athleticism to get through. But I feel like now we’re shifting to playing possession and being able to compete, skill-wise, with the McFarlands of the world.
“If we keep growing, I think we can get to that level soon.”
After another club season on the back line, look for Stencel at the forefront of Evansville’s success for one more year.