JACKSON TWP. Sometimes, a season turns in a positive direction thanks to the bench bunch.
The Jackson Polar Bears have gotten themselves back on track after a few early season bumps in the road, including two losses on their annual Christmas break trip to Florida and league losses to Green and GlenOak, but they’ve rediscovered their winning ways and it can be traced in part back to a non-league win over Copley last month.
"It kind of started with the Copley game before that Lake game, when we had some players come off the bench and produce for us," forward Spencer Stanton said. "Leading into the Lake game, we kept the momentum and once we pulled that out, we felt it was rolling uphill."
Stanton, a member of that bench bunch, said he and players such as Hayden Junker, Ethan Kulichand others hear a consistent message from head coach Tim Debevec to take care of the small things on the court and bring good energy when they come into the game.
The Copley game came on the heels of the loss to Green, a 77-64 defeat, was a tough one to swallow for Jackson because it was an early league game and according to Stanton, the Polar Bears felt they didn’t play up to their own standards.
"We definitely got some fire in our bellies then. After the Green loss, we were pretty low and really disappointed, but after winning a couple in a row, we feel like we’re back on track," Stanton said. "What we saw in the Green game is that the tools are there, we just have to put them together, go out and play the game and keep the ball rolling."
After downing Copley 81-66, Jackson used the resulting momentum to deliver its best defensive effort of the season in its biggest game of the season to that point. Facing Federal League co-leader Lake, the Polar Bears blanketed the Blue Streaks all night long. The result was a 58-40 win that threw the league race into a state of chaos entering the final weeks of the season.
With every team in the league with at least two losses and Canton McKinley one loss behind Lake, Green and Jackson entering the final weeks of the season, any one of the four could claim the crown. Of course, as recent seasons have shown, there’s also the possibility of multiple teams sharing the title.
For Jackson, being in the mix given the roster turnover it had from last season is an impressive feat in and of itself. Stanton noted that he, Junker, Coolidge and players such as Will Hyde weren’t a part of the varsity rotation last season and are only now starting to gain experience at that level.
He said that he and his fellow underclassmen believed that they had the ability to succeed and once they put it together with experience, they felt the wins would come. That has proven to be the case in recent weeks and while there’s a long way to go before the end of the year in terms of deciding the league race and playing out the postseason, whatever success Jackson has from this point on will likely stem from not only its starters, but whether it’s bench players can continue to bring the energy and productivity they’ve shown in recent games.
If that happens, then a season that was bumpy in the early going could turn into a smooth ride down the stretch. Games against Hoover, Lake, Ellet and Mentor remain on the schedule and while the latter two of those contests are non-league tilts, the Hoover and Lake games should go a long way toward deciding who’s crowned Federal League champion in the end.
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