JACKSON TWP. Describing the 2017-18 season for the Jackson girls basketball team in just two words is difficult, but if you have to do so, the best choice just might be "history-making."
Both on a team and individual level, the Polar Bears made their mark on the school record book, setting new programs highs for wins and deepest tournament run and seeing senior guard Taylor Mikesell end her remarkable run with school, county and state record in her grasp.
After a 47-41 loss to Solon in the Canton Division I regional final, fifth-year head coach Anthony Butch admitted that there’s a lot to take in from the campaign. Butch who was named 2018 Northeast Inland All-District Basketball Division I Coach of the Year, pointed to the team's senior class as the engine that drove the Polar Bears' success.
"I’m really proud of whole team … having eight seniors wasn’t easy, but girls were willing to sacrifice for the team," Butch said. "We challenged the girls and they stepped up to that challenge."
While Mikesell’s feats - a school and county-record 60-point game, setting a new Stark County career scoring record, setting state records for made 3-pointers in a game (14) and season (117) and leaving with at least 25 school records - are the flashy highlights, the season had plenty more memorable moments.
As a team, Jackson won more games (22) than any team in program history and while the Polar Bears didn’t quite reach their goal of ending a 40-year Federal League title drought, they finished second in the standings to Canton McKinley with a 9-3 mark and scored a rare road win over the Bulldogs at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.
Add in an even-rarer three-game season sweep of rival Hoover and there were almost too many memorable moments to count. Butch admitted that being so close to a state tournament berth, including leading early in the fourth quarter of the regional final, will stick with he and his players even though they’re proud of their year.
"That game is going stock with us for a long time because we felt like we played well enough to win," Butch said. "We played hard, got knocked down and fought back again. There were just a few moments that made the difference."
The Solon game was a rare experience for Jackson this season because in most games, Mikesell was head and shoulders better than any other player on the floor.
Against Solon, she and her teammates faced an opponent with three Division I recruits of its own, including 6-foot-3 Florida State commit Valencia Myers, who was recently selected for the prestigious McDonald’s All-America game. Add in Mariah Modkins (Kent State) and Gabby Mitchell (Akron) and the Comets had plenty of big stars of their own, although Butch pointed to one of Jackson’s eight seniors as an unsung hero who played Myers tough in the post all game long.
"They were state ranked with Valencia, Mitchell and Modkins, but Chloe held Valencia - at 6-foot-3 - to 10 points despite giving up several inches," Butch said of senior forward Chloe Falconer.
The veteran coach admitted that while he’ll miss being able to put the ball in Mikesell’s hands for 32 minutes a game and allow her to lead the offense, seeing all eight of the squad’s seniors move on will be difficult. The group was part of the program’s regional final run in the 2014-15 season - just the second regional appearance in program history - and book-ended its run with this year’s repeat regional run.
Their collective departure will open up opportunities for a wave of underclassmen to step in and play, a process that will unfold this summer and fall as the team has its summer workouts, camp trips and conditioning. For now, Butch is taking a moment or two to reflect on the year and appreciate all that it brought.
"It’s just hard work paying off … these girls worked hard and the results speak for themselves," Butch said. These girls worked harder than any team I’ve had before. It’s a special culture we have going on across the board here at Jackson. You go from fall to winter to spring and roll from one season to the next, whether it’s boys or girls sports, and you have a culture of winning that’s infectious."
In fact, Butch noted that he had coaches from other Jackson sports come and talk to his team and as part of a winter sports season that included an individual state wrestling championship, a top-five individual finish at the girls state bowling tournament and regional tournament appearance by both boys and girls basketball, the girls basketball team left its mark in a variety of ways.
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