This year's Jackson girls basketball team will look a lot like last year's squad – at least on the court.
The Polar Bears return nine members of a team that went 13-11 last season (5-7 Federal League), but will have a new leader on the bench in first-year head coach Anthony Butch.
Butch isn't new to the program. He spent the last four years as an assistant coach.
As he begins his first season leading the Polar Bears, Butch has a solid base from which to build.
"(By) combining great work in the summer and fall off-season, with the majority of last year's varsity team returning, I would say our outlook is bright," Butch said. "Our strengths are definitely our depth, size, work ethic and experience."
Jackson returns its three leading scorers from last season, as well as its leading rebounder. The team's leading scorer, guard Landrie Grace (14.2 ppg) returns with junior Abby Duffy (11.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg) who should provide a strong interior presence.
Jackson returns a half-dozen role players who saw regular minutes last season, including seniors Lexie Pittinger, Justus Lee and Sydney Cowles. Two newcomers will bolster the roster as Jen Slogar, a standout for the volleyball team, will provide depth in the post and senior transfer Kayla Gonzalez steps in after moving from New York.
As a new season dawns, Butch has made defense a focal point. It has been his message since taking over from former coach Harold Fisher in the spring.
"Our main weakness as a team is our defense. We have worked extensively on defense through the first two weeks of practice and will continue to do so throughout the season," Butch said. "Our goal is to turn the weakness into one of our strengths. Our team philosophy is, 'Defense will not win you games, but it will put your offense in a position to do so.'"
Butch believes the Polar Bears are also versatile enough to vary their style of play depending upon their opponent. The team's depth will provide a variety of lineup combinations for the coaches to choose from against a demanding schedule that includes three semifinalists from last year's North Canton Division I district tournament (Lake, Canton McKinley and North Canton Hoover).
"Our style is going to be dictated by our opponent. We have the flexibility to conform to the style that suits us best against any given opponent," Butch said. "We can go jumbo and pound the ball into the paint or go small and run in a more up-tempo style … whichever attacks the weaknesses of our opponents better."
The chance to be a head coach is one Butch pursued for 11 years and at four different schools, but that number is small compared to the Federal League championship drought the Polar Bears are seeking to end. The 1977-78 team was the only one in school history to win the league crown and the 36-year span without a title isn't lost on the Polar Bears or their coach.
Page 2 of 2 - "Our team is looking forward to every Federal League game in an attempt to compete for a title," Butch said. "Our first league game is at GlenOak on Dec. 7. I have been looking forward to that game from the day I got hired as head coach."