The Jackson girls lacrosse team will be the first Division I girls team in the county to appear in an Ohio Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association state semifinal game when they face Upper Arlington on Friday.
Her players initially laughed at the thought of reaching the state tournament.
Jackson High School girls lacrosse coach Elizabeth McCormick, though, kept telling her players it was possible.
The laughter soon faded. Growing confidence took over. So did a sense of belief.
And now the Polar Bears are exactly where their coach told them they could be — getting ready to play in the state tournament Friday night.
“When you set a high goal and you get your team to believe in reaching that goal,” McCormick said,
“I have found that they will start to play up to those expectations. That is what’s happened this year.”
Jackson has made history this year, becoming the first Stark County Division I team to play in an Ohio Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association state semifinal game. The Polar Bears, ranked eighth in the state, will take the field at 5:15 p.m.Friday, to face No. 1-ranked Upper Arlington at New Albany High School.
The magnitude of what Jackson has accomplished did not fully dawn on the team until a recent team dinner.
“We were talking to our server,” McCormick said. “He talked about how he was a three-sport athlete in high school and how in all those years and in all those sports, he never once got close to playing at the state level. It really drove home how few even get the chance to play in something like this.”
It is a point McCormick continues to drive home. And the Bears have learned not to question their coach’s wisdom.
“I recently had a good chat with three of my seniors,” McCormick said. “Early on in the season I told them they were going to make it to state, and they told me at the time they didn’t believe me. With each win, I kept reinforcing that we were going to make it to this point and they laughed it off.
“As the wins kept coming, though, they told me they started buying in and that they began to believe.”
McCormick calls this “the most cohesive team I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching.”
“When they come on the field they have each other’s backs, and off the field they really enjoy being around each other. The closeness of the team is really reflected on the field. The players know each others’ strengths and weaknesses and they communicate really well.
“Sometimes when you get a bunch of girls on the field they like to talk, but when it comes to talking about the game plan, they stop talking. That is not the case at all with this group. They communicate very well and they are very supportive of each other on and off the field.”
Page 2 of 2 - Jackson (16-2) will take on a program that is no stranger to the state tournament. Upper Arlington (14-2) has won four OSLA state titles since 2002 and also reached the state title game in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“They have very strong players,” McCormick said. “... They have a sophomore that is quite good. She is already receiving (college) offers.”
Jackson, though, has its talent, too.
Junior midfielder Anna Seanor already has verbally committed to Ohio State. She has a team-high 57 goals. Three Jackson seniors also have lined up college careers — Monica Campbell (Findlay), Michaela Puterbach (Oberlin) and Alexis Juergensen (Capital).
Still, the Bears are the underdogs and they are fine with that.
“There are no expectations,” McCormick said. “Nobody is putting pressure on us and telling us we have to win. They realize that they have good players, but I keep reminding them that we have good players, as well.
“Nothing we do on offense or defense is built on one player. We don’t have to change things when somebody leaves the game for us. When we make a substitution there isn’t a drop-off for us.”