JACKSON TWP. Over the past few weeks, Jackson has been powered by a record-setting scoring run by senior guard Taylor Mikesell. In a three-game stretch, she scored 50, 41 and 40 points, with the first entry on that list breaking the school single-game scoring record, and a key win over Canton McKinley included in the span.
Yet, as the postseason nears and the Polar Bears appear poised for a high seed in the Canton Division I bracket, the question of how the tournament will unfold and what the Polar Bears will do if, as the level of competition rises, opponents throw more focus and ability at Mikesell in an attempt to stop her and short-circuit the Jackson offense in the process.
Fifth-year head coach Anthony Butch knows Mikesell will receive a lot of defensive attention in the postseason, but insisted he and his staff haven’t started crafting a game plan for what they’ll do if another top-seeded team goes all-out in an attempt to take Mikesell out of the game.
"We have not even looked ahead to tournament because we’ve been in the middle of the league race and for us, every league game feels like a tournament game and we’re trying to compete for a title," Butch said. "We haven’t even given any thought to what the tournament seeds will look like."
On some levels, that approach makes sense, as Jackson has seen plenty of teams throw varied, multi-defender defensive looks at its star guard. Whatever they see in the tournament likely won’t be entirely new, but with the stakes higher, the question will be how the other members of the lineup respond when they have more open looks in pressure spots.
"It is what it is, we know she could have two to three girls coming at her so the focus is on getting other girls confident and stepping up and knocking down shots," Butch said. "If you look at our stats, Taylor takes about 40 percent of our shots, so 60 percent of those go to other girls and they’re getting used to if you don’t have someone on you, take the open shot."
Butch noted that Mikesell’s recent scoring streak has raised her profile even more, but in the wake of that streak, other players have stepped up and made the most of their chances to score. Senior guard Lauren Scheetz hit three 3-pointers in a win over Lake last month and has been one of the players who has seized on chances when opponents double team Mikesell.
The win over McKinley also served as a noteworthy contest because it was the first of at least two showdowns between Mikesell and another top contender for Ohio’s Miss Basketball award, given annually to the player voted the best in the state regardless of division, McKinley’s Kierstan Bell.
The two are each headed to a Division I college - though Bell is a junior and isn’t able to officially sign yet, she’s being heavily recruited by multiple schools and Mikesell has signed with Maryland - and because McKinley moved out of Jackson’s district bracket last season, a third meeting between the duo would have to wait until much later in the postseason if both teams make it that far.
"You have two of best players in state of Ohio living five minutes from each other and our league is the best league in the state for girls basketball, so going undefeated wasn’t going to happen this year," Butch said of the league race. "It’s been like that every year so it’s nothing new and our district is basically a glorified Federal League tournament even though McKinley is up in the Cleveland district now and you still expect the Federal League to have the first four seeds."
Regardless of seed, Jackson is likely to face a familiar foe or two in the sectional and district bracket.
That would afford a certain level of familiarity with how opponents will confront them defensively, but the reality that last season’s state title run by the Jackson boys team illustrated was that players who are normally out of the limelight have to step up in the tournament for a team to go far in February and March.
As good as their star has been, the Polar Bears’ fate come tournament time will rest in large part with the rest of the roster and how they seize upon the chances that come their way.
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