JACKSON TWP. More than halfway through its season, the Jackson tennis team aced its biggest test to date.
The Polar Bears, who began the year long on energy and enthusiasm but short on experience, earned a resounding 4-1 win over Green, one of the dominant teams in Federal League girls tennis since entering the league in 2015.
The victory came against a veteran team with an entire starting lineup full of seniors who will earn their fourth varsity letter this fall, a fact not lost on Jackson coach Jennifer Janson.
“Beating Green was a huge confidence booster for us. I, along with a lot of others, thought they were top dog in the Federal League this year,” Janson said. “They have five four-year returning letterwinners and knowing they have that momentum, winning was big.”
The match was part of a 10-1 start to the season that has put Jackson in the driver’s seat for the league’s regular season title. Janson had confidence in seniors Emily Thomas and Megan Reese, who have provided leadership for a squad that has several underclassmen in key roles.
Against Green, Thomas defeated Maria Zivick in straight sets in first singles to set the tone for the day and Reese toppled Anne Zivick after losing the first set to stake Jackson to an insurmountable 2-0 edge. Still, one of the most surprising aspects of the day was the success Jackson had in the doubles matches.
Facing Green’s veteran doubles teams, some of the youngest players on Jackson’s roster turned in impressive performances to lock down the win.
“The win at first doubles was a surprise … Green’s doubles team has been playing together on varsity all four years and (sophomore) McKenzie Ecrement and (freshman) Samantha Reese playing together against them haven’t had a full season under their belt playing doubles together,” Janson said.
Ecrement and Reese battled back after a tough first set defeat and won the last two sets, including a tiebreaker in the third set, in a moment that could well serve as a turning point for them as a doubles team. As the season winds down and the postseason nears, getting a big win over one of the better teams in the league should provide a lot of momentum not just for Ecrement and Reese, but for the squad as a whole.
The lone loss so far this season came to reigning state champion Magnificat, once again ranked first in the state and expected to be a favorite to repeat in Columbus next month. For Jackson to have a shot to do its own postseason damage, Janson knows it will fall on the team’s leaders to set the tone.
“I definitely think we have a great source of Emily Thomas and Megan Reese that are seniors on varsity and push these girls to give 110 percent not just in practice but in everything they do,” Janson said. “Molly Altman is a junior and a great source of leadership as well and when your three girls at the top are good role models and have a good work ethic, it trickles down.”
Against Green, Janson noted, Megan Reese altered her game to best take advantage of her opponent’s weaknesses and after the victory, the Polar Bears are starting to believe in what their coach has thought since the preseason when it comes to what they are capable of accomplishing.
With the league tournament coming up at the Harvard and Stadium courts in a two-location setup that separates singles and doubles matches, followed by the postseason, that belief promises to be extremely beneficial.
“We won the Federal League last year and are definitely are out to defend our title,” Janson said. “That’s always the main focus and in Stark County, winning the Federal League is always icing on the cake for our season. My girls worked hard and played a lot of tournaments in the offseason to boost their game and now it’s paying off.”
The payoff has already started coming in, but with some of the biggest matches and tournaments of the season still ahead, Jackson is out to ace the tests coming its way.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB