JACKSON TWP.  Adapt and succeed.

Through five games, players in new positions and new roles have been able to adjust well enough for the Jackson boys lacrosse team to start 4-1. With a strong junior class helping lead the way, the Polar Bears have been able to get on a roll early and with senior Sam Shew joining the team after the basketball team’s state championship run, the Jackson attack has only gotten stronger in recent weeks.

“Our strength right now is at the midfield and scoring in unsettled situations. We have been very strong in the clearing and riding game,” head coach Bobby Lyle said. “A lot of players have accepted new roles on the team and are starting to embrace them. We are pretty deep at the face-off X, which leads to a lot more possessions for our offense.”

With Shew still with the basketball team in the first few weeks of the season, the junior class did its part to step up and power the offense. Junior midfielder John Thomas has been the Polar Bears’ leading goal scorer, telling 16 goals through the first five games. Fellow juniors Dominic Faiella, Carson Potere and Chance Clevenger have combined for 12 goals and 11 assists, keeping the offense rolling as the defense progresses.

That end of the field has seen the biggest impact from the senior class, as senior captain Chase Altier has helped lead a unit that has shown solid growth with each game.

“Chase Altier has lead the charge and takes on the opposing team's best attackman each game. Ian Gelal has really stepped up and been fundamentally sound and Trent Thomas has done a great job shutting down midfielders and helping our transition game,” Lyle said, also crediting Ted Stuhldreher’s work along with sophomore goalie Adam Kelly. “Overall, they continue to improve and are learning from early season mistakes.”

Gelal has been one of the players who has opened eyes through five games as he stepped in to help fill the void left by the loss of a strong, senior-led defensive unit that was one of the cornerstones of last season’s team. The strongest part of his game, according to his coach, is that Gelal is fundamentally sound and executes his role well.

Many of those players are in new spots - or at least different roles - than last season because Jackson had to replace its entire attack unit from last season due to heavy graduation losses. Through the first five games, there have been plenty of scoring chances and going forward, Lyle knows his squad will have to convert a higher percentage of those opportunities if they are to continue their winning ways as the schedule gets tougher.

Having Kelly, whom Lyle described as “one of the top goalies in our region who is tough to beat,” at the back end provides an added level of confidence, but he’s not the only capable net minder the Polar Bears have.

Junior Nick Smith backs up Kelly and while he doesn’t have a chance to start, Lyle noted that his work in practice, challenging shooters and making it difficult to find the back of the net has pushed those shooters to improve. 

“Nick has never played before, and could probably start for some other programs,” Lyle said.

With the schedule ahead, whoever is in goal for Jackson will be under a lot of pressure, at matchups with Toledo St. John, Lakewood St. Edward, Cleveland St. Ignatius and Mentor all loom in the weeks ahead. Because the Federal League does not have a boys lacrosse league, the only league schools on the schedule are Green and Hoover, the latter of which will visit Jackson next month for both teams’ regular-season finale.

The goal for Jackson is to use the games ahead to continue to develop in order to tackle the postseason in the first year of an Ohio High School Athletic Association-sponsored tournament. Northeast Ohio remains strong in Division I boys lacrosse and if the Polar Bears are to put together a good tournament run, they’ll have to do so against a region that figures to test them every step of the way.

“Our main goal is to be playing our best lacrosse in May to make a playoff run, so that means getting better each practice and game, but doing everything at full speed,” Lyle said. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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