With a 9-8 win over Rocky River Magnificat in a Division I quarterfinal contest, Jackson (16-2) became the first Division I girls team in Stark County history to reach the final four in the state tournament.
There seemed to be plenty of respect flying around the lacrosse world in Stark County, but the Jackson varsity girls lacrosse team felt too little of it was directed toward them.
Making history is a good way to shift the respect paradigm and that's precisely what the Polar Bears have done with a run to the Ohio State Lacrosse Association state semifinals. With a 9-8 win over Rocky River Magnificat in a Division I quarterfinal contest, Jackson (16-2) became the first Division I girls team in Stark County history to reach the final four in the state tournament.
"It's exciting to finally have Jackson recognized as a good lacrosse program," junior tri-captain Anna Seanor said. "We've been working hard and Medina is...it's always, 'Oh, Medina's good, Medina's good,' and hopefully next year people will come up and play us and be like, 'Jackson went to state finals.'"
Fellow tri-captains Monica Campbell and Michaela Puterbaugh agreed.
"It's the best senior season we could have asked for, especially making history for Jackson like this," Campbell said. "It's nice that it's finally the girls' team being recognized."
"It really couldn't have ended a better way than this," Puterbaugh added. "(It's good) to finally be taken seriously because usually the guys just make fun of us."
The game against Magnificat looked to be a high-scoring match early on, as the Jackson offense got on track with seven first-half goals to build a 7-4 halftime lead. The offense hit its stride as Jacelyn Litman, Madison Sirpilla and Taylor Thomas all netted multiple goals. Litman led the way with three scores and Sirpilla recorded a solid all-around game with three assists to compliment her two scores.
Holding a three-goal edge at intermission and playing on their home field at Fife Stadium, the Polar Bears seemed to be in prime position to reach the next round. The Blue Streaks felt otherwise and turned the game into a defensive battle in the second half.
The Magnificat defense clamped down and held the hosts to two goals in the final two periods. As the goal scoring declined, the drama rose and a chance to step out of the long shadow cast by the Jackson varsity boys team and Federal League rival Hoover became uncertain. Making matters even dicier, starting goalie Jaelyn Current sat out the game with an undisclosed injury, leaving backup goalie Maddie Thomas to fill in. Head coach Elizabeth McCormick has expressed confidence in her backups and junior varsity players throughout the season and playing in a pressure spot with a state semifinal berth on the line, Thomas proved her coach correct.
In the closing seconds of their final home game of the season, as the final Magnificat push fell short and reality began to sink in, the jubilant Jackson sideline erupted and the resulting celebration showed plenty of excitement, but also a sense from both players and coaches that they had proven a point to any doubters.
Page 2 of 2 - "I think what has made this team successful over teams in the past is their cohesiveness," McCormick said. "They not only have each other's back on the field, but they're good friends off the field. When we are in a tough situation, maybe down in goals or we're getting beat up physically, the girls really rise up and push each other to do better and to succeed."
Current returned to practice this week and is expected to be in goal Friday evening when the Polar Bears take on Upper Arlington at New Albany High School, about half an hour east of Columbus. The winner of the Jackson-Upper Arlington match up will face the winner of the Medina-Sycamore semifinal in Saturday's state championship game.
With the win over Magnificat, the home portion of the team's tournament run came to a close. After playing their first three postseason games within the familiar confines of Fife Stadium, they must now take to the road and make the long drive south. As they do so, they will be looking to ditch any remaining doubters and ensure that moving forward, Jackson girls lacrosse will be mentioned in the same group as other Stark County powers.
Although they believe their postseason so far makes that very statement, a state championship trophy would put a nice exclamation point on the sentence.