JACKSON TWP. The first two rounds of the postseason could hardly have gone better for the Jackson Polar Bears.
The reigning Federal League champions added sectional and district tournament championships to their resume and now head south to the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I girls state golf championships looking to overcome the odds - and a tough field - and claim the first state title in program history.
"There's a lot of truth to the fact that golf is different ... I tell our girls that best players in the world don't even win every weekend," veteran head coach Teal Harvey said. "With our girls, they do want to be a part of program that's been put forth in front of them and there is pressure on them in that they want to do well and they don't want to be the ones that don't make it down (to Columbus)."
It's true that the Polar Bears have become regulars at the state tournament and have finished near the top of the field in Columbus on multiple occasions. According to Harvey, the current iteration of the Polar Bears also knows on some level that in living up to the high standard set by those who came through the program before them, they ultimately have to stick to who they are and the team that they've built this season.
"They also realize, 'Hey, this is our team,' and that's how we have to play," Harvey said.
That team will pack its clubs and make the drive south to NorthStar Golf Club in the Columbus suburb of Sunbury this weekend and may also want to pack warm hats and layers of clothes for what may be a very chilly couple of rounds. Forecasts have suggested temperatures could dip to the low or mid-40s for one or both rounds and while the Polar Bears don't want to dwell on the elements, they'll have to make the necessary adjustments to stay warm and deal with what nature throws at them.
"The temperature may be in the low 40s and that's something we haven't faced this year, so we'll have to adjust to that," Harvey said. "This course plays long, about 5,700 yards, and you add that in with the weather and it's going to be a challenge."
The good news for Jackson is that its lineup features players with big-match experience at the state level, as well as playing top competition as individuals in various amateur tournaments. Sydney Scibetta is the lone senior in the five-person lineup, which also includes just one junior in Anastasia Nikolaidis.
That leaves sophomores Avery Wright, Savanna Porter and Abrielle Nikolaidis to fill out the starting five, with senior Jessie Sedlock as the alternate. Wright paced the team to a win at the Northeast district tournament with an impressive round of 76, but four of the five Jackson golfers shot 88 or better for the round and the resulting team score of 334 put the Polar Bears three shots ahead of a talented Green team that will also represent the Federal League in Columbus, along with third-place Hoover.
"We have kids I think can handle that distance (of the course), but you put that together with pressure of being at the state tournament and it will be difficult challenge," Harvey said.
The veteran head coach believes that the par-3 holes will be the toughest part of the course with the weather being what it's forecast to be. The distance for the par-3 holes at NorthStar Golf Club is expected to be between 170 and 190 yards depending on pin placement and in cold conditions, players may have to use different clubs in order to reach the green than they're used to employing.
Add in a tough stretch of holes that includes multiple par-4 setups starting with the sixth hole and there simply won't be many chances to relax once the Polar Bears tee off beginning at 9 a.m. Friday morning. Oh, and there's also the small matter of being paired with the defending Division I state champion and another of the top teams in the state - both of which Jackson has played against and lost to this season.
New Albany and Lakota East figure to push the Polar Bears all day long and while it's impossible to win the state tournament on day one by playing well, Harvey knows that a squad can dash its title hopes if it has a bad first day and falls too far off the lead to make a comeback on day two.
"We've been on both sides of coin. You can't shoot yourself out of it first day and you have to stay within reach," Harvey said. "Being paired up New Albany and Lakota East on the first day ... we've played them and they've beaten us convincingly both times, so we know who we're going up against and how well we have to play to stay with them."
Armed with that knowledge - and likely some warm hats and gloves - the Polar Bears are ready to tackle what NorthStar Golf Club has to offer and see if they can write a winning next chapter in the growing history of a program that ranks among the most consistent and successful in Ohio over the past decade.