Jeff Walck is not a greedy coach by nature. When his Jackson Polar Bears started the 2013 volleyball season with a long winning streak, Walck didn't press for it to go on all year.
"If you would have told me before the season that we were in 23-3 and in the regional, I'd have taken that," the fifth-year Jackson coach said Monday.
Walck and the Polar Bears weren't handed a free pass into the Hudson regional. The state's fifth-ranked team in Division I has earned its way into a third consecutive regional berth.
The Federal League champions rolled through the Uniontown Division I district tournament and will play Euclid district winner Mayfield (11-15) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the first semifinal.
Barberton district champion Wadsworth will meet Stow district winner Hudson in the evening's second semifinal, with the two winners advancing to Saturday's 2 p.m. championship match.
There's no question that Jackson enters the tournament as the favorite. Last year's state runner-up, it went undefeated in the league for a third straight year and did not lose a game in four district matches in crushing GlenOak in the final.
Agile and powerful outside hitters Brooke Bailey and Stephanie Spencer key an explosive Jackson offense. Senior Jen Slogar anchors a strong middle, classmates Rachel Seifert and Kate Regas can dig almost anything and sophomore setter Kelly Klimo has come into her own as an all-around player.
More importantly, the team has jelled at the right time. Walck said a poor overall effort at the Mentor Power Tournament made the girls take a look at where they were headed.
"The kids weren't happy coming back from Mentor," said Walck. "They did not like losing two matches. It's been a little bit better focus. ... They knew what they had to do.
"I do think they've kicked it up a notch. We weren't serving as strong as last year. We have spent a lot of time on it the last three weeks, 40-45 minutes a day. Over those three weeks, we've done a better job ...
"And it all came together against GlenOak. Kelly had seven aces, and we had 15 as a team."
He said a torrid stretch of play by Spencer has aided the attack.
"Stephanie might not have the pop that Brooke has but she passes, serves, hits well from the front," said Walck. "That's taken some pressure of Brooke. They are a pretty good 1-2 punch on the outside."
While the Polar Bears are in their third straight regional, that's far from the case for Mayfield. The Wildcats are in their first since 1978, 35 long years ago.
But a lack of postseason success and a sub-.500 record is no reason to dismiss Mayfield, said Walck.
Page 2 of 2 - "If we do that, we'll be their next victim," he said. "When I went on the (state coaches site) they had played good teams: Hudson, Solon, Mentor, Medina, Villa Angela-St. Joseph's.
"They didn't get blown out by anyone. We had better focus against them."
They punched their ticket to Hudson be beating the top three seeds punctuated in the district final by a five-game, 15-11 tie-breaking win over Mentor, a team the 'Cats had lost to twice in the regular season.
Coach Rosella Glodkowski's girls were in the district finals twice in the last four years, before kicking down the door last week.