JACKSON TWP.  When points are hard to find, defense is the answer.

Jackson girls basketball entered the holiday break on a three-game losing streak, with all three losses coming in league play and all three seeing the Polar Bears score 48 or fewer points. With its offense in a rut, Jackson hosted its own Holiday Classic tournament, looking to turn its fortunes around before returning to the rigors of Federal League play.

The answer came on the end of the court that has been a focal point ever since fourth-year head coach Anthony Butch took over the program.

“It was really encouraging … defense is our staple and it’s one of my main staples as a coach,” Butch said. “In our three losses in the Federal League coming in, our defense wasn’t quite where it needed to be, so we put a strong emphasis on it in the practices leading up to the tournament.”

Butch noted that the Polar Bears’ man-to-man defense was “poor” in those three losses and furthermore, the team’s defensive rebounding was not at the level needed to consistently win games. He pointed to the mindset and attitude necessary to rebound well and theorized that the team grew heavily reliant last season on forward Caitlyn Tytler, whose senior season saw her set the school’s single-game record for rebounds.

Last season, the Polar Bears could count on Tytler to control the glass, but with her gone, the team doesn’t have that one dominant rebounder who dominates on the glass each game. In winning two games at its holiday tournament and opening the new year with much-needed league wins over Green and Hoover, Jackson began to trend back in the right direction with its defense and rebounding.

In defeating Warren Howland, Stow, Hoover and Green, the Polar Bears allowed an average of 43 points per game, compared to to 49.3 in their three-game losing streak. 

Butch credited senior captains Liz Davide and Julia Hartnett with leading the defensive turnaround, along with junior guard Taylor Mikesell.

“The upperclassmen have seen our emphasis we put on defense and we have two strong senior captains who do a great job,” Butch said. “Liz leads us in steals and she’s one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve ever coached, and against Howland, Taylor guarded (Sarah) Price and held her to three points … it was one of the best individual defensive efforts I’ve seen.”

Getting the defense turned around entering the next wave of Federal League games is vital for Jackson, which still has a game left against each team ahead of it in the standings. When seven programs know each other so well - the entire league plays one another twice during the season and all reside in the same district bracket in the postseason - there isn’t much mystery in league games.

Both ends of the court become chess matches because each team knows the other’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, Butch noted, so the outcome hinges on making small, in-game adjustments and whose players make the big plays down the stretch.

The good news, even for teams that may not have the same star power or raw talent as others, is that defense can be an equalizer.

“Anybody can play defense … defense is a mentality and it’s about effort,” Butch said. “Every player can play defense … you don’t have to be a star to be a good defender.”

Defending well may not solve all of a team’s problems and the remainder of the season will test Jackson on both ends of the court, but if the Polar Bears are going to reach the goals they’ve set and make an impact in the postseason, it will start with good defensive stances, boxing out, disrupting passing lanes and making life difficult for opposing offenses. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB