JACKSON TWP.  Don’t sell the Jackson volleyball team short this fall - no matter what the roster says.

While a scan of the roster can’t tell you much about how the season will turn out, what it does make clear is that the Polar Bears don’t have the same height on the court as they have in past seasons. Height matters more in some sports than others and in volleyball, having tall, rangy players to patrol the net and stuff shots makes a big impact.

Veteran head coach Jeff Walck knows his team won’t be as tall this season as it has in recent years, but that doesn’t mean the Polar Bears are lacking for players who can make their mark.

“Actually, it’s been quite a pleasant surprise since, around the middle of July, we weren’t sure where we were going to stack up or be at this time of the year,” Walck said. “This year’s team is not as big as we’ve been in the past, but we’re going to rely on our strengths, which are ball control, passing and defense … this might be best defensive team we’ve had since I’ve been at Jackson.”

Walck joked that Jackson “might be the shortest team in the Federal League” because it has “no one over 6 feet” on its roster, meaning that ball control and defense become that much more important.

Additionally, athleticism and passing are assets which Jackson believes can carry it where it wants to go. After graduating just two seniors from last year’s team, the Polar Bears have five seniors on the roster.

Sarah Benson, Nikolette Zanolli, Julianne Hodge, Makenzie Rabbitt and Averie Elsass are the latest senior class to inherit a 74-game league winning streak. While keeping the streak of dominating the Federal League going isn’t something that drives those inside the program, Walck admitted that the players are aware of it on some level.

“They’re not stupid … they know this streak can’t go on forever, but no one wants to be the one to see it drop,” Walck said. “Everyone in the league wants to be the ones to beat us and see that streak end and we’re realists … we know we have to be pretty darn perfect to keep it going.”

The league itself looks different this season, as Hoover and Perry have new coaches and Lake returns a solid group that Walck characterized as having “a lot of good athletes.” He also coached a couple of GlenOak players during the travel ball season and believes that the Golden Eagles have the chance to make an impact as well.

One early crucible for Jackson will be its own Jackson Invitational tournament next month. The event, like the Federal League, has changed a bit since last year, but it will still bring together some of the area’s best squads from across different divisions. 

“We’ve added some new teams to the tournament and the field has increased in strength,” Walck said. “There are some teams that are in very good leagues of their own and they may not want to play in that type of tournament because their own league is so tough, but we’ve added Wadsworth and Canton Central Catholic.”

With those teams in the field, Jackson figures to have an exciting weekend of volleyball in its gym, but before then, the Polar Bears will tackle their first two weeks of matches and look to set the tone for its season. Benson is the team’s setter, while Zanolli and Hodge are the team’s defensive specialists and Rabbitt and Elsass are two of the team’s big hitters. Around them, six juniors and a sophomore round out the 12 players at the top of the roster and it’s that mix that will determine whether or not the team is tall enough to reach its goals. 

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