JACKSON TWP.  A perfect season doesn’t always get a perfect ending.

Jackson girls lacrosse powered its way to a second straight state championship game, posting a 20-0 record entering their rematch with defending state champion Upper Arlginton, but the Golden Bears dashed the Polar Bears’ title dreams for a second straight season with a 15-6 win.

It was a disappointing finish for Jackson, but the accomplishments the Polar Bears stacked up to reach the title game and their fourth state tournament in the past six years remain. 

“Although the final outcome wasn’t what we wanted or expected, what it took to get there and all the sacrifices the girls made since the day after our last state final game will never be forgotten or overshadowed by the fact that we fell short on that one day,” head coach John Kroah said.

Kroah, who took over as head coach from Elizabeth McCormick and has been able to keep the program’s recent run of success going, pointed to a slow start as one of the key factors in the title game. Playing on a warm day and knowing Upper Arlington had more depth, Jackson’s primary goal was to score early, put the Golden Bears in a hole and slow the game down, forcing their opponent to play a more deliberate pace while allowing their players more of a chance to conserve energy.

Instead, Upper Arlington got out fast and was able to execute their game plan and in turn, keep Jackson from fulfilling its own. 

“We got down early and could never recover. They did a tremendous job executing their game plan, which was to use their athleticism and depth to wear us down,” Kroah said.

Upper Arlington’s stranglehold on the top spot in Division I carried over from the tournament’s previous run sponsored by the Ohio Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association to this year’s first-ever Ohio High School Athletic Association-sponsored tournament and the Polar Bears know that getting their first state title and potentially the first for a girls team in Jackson history will mean improving their overall skill level and athleticism in the coming season. Kroah noted that despite Upper Arlington’s favorite status going into the game, Jackson was confident it had a chance to win. Still, he noted that the Golden Bears have “for many years and continue to be, by far, the best team in the state of Ohio, hands down.”

With an undefeated regular season, Jackson set a new standard for success within the program and leading scorer Julia Hartnett, one of several players committed to play at the college level, challenge several program records and ended with 75 goals, 24 assists and 114 draw controls, which Kroah believes rank among the best in program history in that category.

Preparing for the challenges Upper Arlginton poses was an underlying theme during the regular season and a spring break trip to Georgia pitted Jackson against a Cambridge (Ga.) team that went on to play in their own state championship game.

According to Kroah, Cambridge came the closest of any team all season to approximating the defensive pressure and talent Upper Arlington brought in the title game.

The title game was a “bittersweet” moment for the lacrosse team, with Kroah pointing out that the squad’s continual goals is to become the first girls team ever to win a state title at Jackson High School. Seeing the baseball and boys basketball team’s win titles this season was a happy moment, but also tough for the lacrosse team because they badly wanted to match those feats with a title of their own.

Still, hours after their loss to Upper Arlington, the members of the lacrosse team had a choice. They could either board the bus and go home or they could make the short trip to Hungtinton Park in Columbus to watch the baseball title game. The team voted unanimously to stay in central Ohio and support the baseball team, a moment that the coaching staff viewed as a sign of their players’ character.

“We stayed the entire time and all cheered and watched them achieve their goal of winning states,” Kroah said. “To say that was a bittersweet moment would be an understatement. I’m not sure how many teams would have chosen to do that but I was extremely proud of the girls for making that decision knowing how hard it was for them to make it.”

When they finally did take the long bus ride home, the members of the lacrosse team who can return next season were already talking about their plan of attack to return to the title game again next season and finally author their own perfect ending.

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or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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