JACKSON TWP. It was bound to end at some point.
The question for the Jackson Polar Bears was how they would respond when it did. For eight-plus seasons, they hadn't lost a Federal League volleyball match.
It was a streak that spanned numerous senior classes and two head coaches, but sports streaks are bound to end eventually no matter how dominant the team and when the Polar Bears fell in five sets to GlenOak earlier this season, it was a difficult moment for a team with just two seniors.
"We're trying to focus on big picture and a tournament run. That goal (winning the league) may be crushed if not everything aligns for us, so we're focused on the tournament and if we do that, I know the wins will come," head coach Cortney Goodwin said. "We've taken some hits and it's really hard to build that kind of streak. When we did, it was really hard for the girls and they were really disappointed."
The circumstances of the GlenOak loss made the end of the streak even more of a bitter moment. Jackson entered the match having won 99 straight league games, a streak that began eight-plus seasons ago under former head coach Jeff Walck.
Goodwin was able to keep the streak going after taking over the program, but entering this season with a very young team, she knew sustaining it would be extremely difficult.
Now that the streak is a thing of the past, the Polar Bears are responding well and trending in a positive direction, according to their coach.
"I think we're playing at the highest level we have played all season," Goodwin said. "I'm confident we're going to challenge everyone we play. We're still a young, relatively inexperienced team, but we're getting better."
An 8-4 record through 12 games and a 4-2 Federal League mark in the first pass through league play leaves Jackson needing some help - and likely to win all of its remaining league matches - to have a chance at yet another league title.
However, Goodwin is placing a big emphasis on quality play on a micro level and on showing quantitative growth rather than simply wins and losses.
It's an idea she's pushed since taking over the program and it happens to mesh well with what the Polar Bears need in the aftermath of the streak ending.
"I'm big on quality play and we look at a lot of statistics that show the level of quality we're playing at," Goodwin said. "As long as we do what we need to do, we can beat anyone."
Goodwin and her staff not only share quality-of-play stats with players in practice and in talks with the squad, but in between sets to let the team know whether it's performing at a high level when it comes to areas such as hitting errors, kill efficiency and setting.
What Goodwin likes about focusing on such stats is that it takes the focus off wins and losses as the sole means of judging success.
At the same time, performing well in these important areas of the game tends to produce success, so pursing growth in them is designed to propel the Polar Bears in the right direction.
The charge this season is being led by players such as sophomore middle hitter Ari Wyant, a player Goodwin describes as "an intense competitor, a terminator who isn't intimidated by anything," one of the underclassmen who has a chance to make a big impact not just this season, but in the coming ones.
Another is freshman outside hitter Leena Patibandla, who has stepped in at a position where the team was hit hardest by graduation and has progressed quickly over the course of the season, according to Goodwin. Like Wyant, Goodwin noted, Patibandla is intensely competitive and one of the most competitive freshmen Goodwin has worked with in 20 years as a coach.
Junior setter Ali Stanislawski is a player Goodwin credits for helping hold the team together in tough moments. Setters touch the ball often and must facilitate the attack by setting up their teammates, making Stanislawski's buy-in to Goodwin's approach even bigger for both players and coaches.
"I feel like Ali believes in me and what we're teaching," Goodwin said. "She's a very consistent player ... she's not fancy, but she's consistent with low errors and is a hard worker."
Overall, it's been a much different journey than Jackson volleyball has taken for nearly the past decade. There won't be an unblemished league record and there's no multi-season league unbeaten streak to tend to, but the ultimate goal is actually quite similar.
The Polar Bears want to make a deep run in the postseason and play for district and regional tournament trophies, continuing the long-running quest for the program's first state championship. They're pursuits that can be chased with or without any streak in hand.