Eighteen games, eighteen wins.
JACKSON TWP. Eighteen games, eighteen wins.
Jackson girls lacrosse is a team with a strong track record of winning and high aspirations for future success. The Polar Bears’ undefeated record this spring is the byproduct of an experienced team with plenty of talent and a schedule that ended up being slightly easier than expected, but the lack of strong tests on a regular basis hasn’t diminished their accomplishments.
“Our strength of schedule wasn’t where we wanted or really needed it to be, but you can’t totally control that,” head coach John Kroah said.
Some teams on the schedule that were expected to be stronger had down seasons, but 18 straight wins generates a fair amount of momentum regardless. Those 18 wins carried the Polar Bears into the regional bracket this week with a chance to earn a state semifinal berth with two more victories. On the flip side, there is always a danger that being undefeated will inflate a team’s confidence and cause players to take their eyes off the day-to-day tasks needed to continue winning.
Knowing that and with two experienced assistant coaches in Elizabeth McCormick and Jean Furbay, Kroah is intent on not allowing his players to have their egos swell to the point of overconfidence.
“We spend a lot of time on that, if not daily, then definitely weekly, making sure they’re not slipping into a mindset where they’re overlooking any teams,” Kroah said. “We take the approach that our biggest competition should be ourselves, and we remind them before games that it should be about Jackson playing Jackson and being at our best.”
Experience has played a big role in keeping the team’s focus sharp. With the entire starting lineup back from last season’s state semifinal team, dealing with big moments hasn’t been a problem so far. The veterans on the roster, including eight seniors, are tasked with helping the underclassmen get up to speed quickly so they can contribute if and when needed.
Among the eight seniors, three are committed to playing at the college level next season. While those three are key cogs in the machine, Kroah noted that there is an extra level of motivation for the five seniors who realize that every game they play could be the last not just of their high school careers, but of their lacrosse careers.
“You definitely see that sense of urgency even if it’s not verbally, then it’s in their actions and their play … they practice a little harder and there’s more emotion in what they’re doing,” Kroah said. “We have three seniors going on to play in college, but for those five seniors who won’t be playing on, even though they’re going to be going to some of the best colleges in America, there’s that added sense of urgency.”
That urgency, according to the first-year head coach, has been coupled with a strong uptick in maturity for the seniors as the year has worn on. Seeing the sport teach those lessons about growing up, handling struggles and dealing with others in difficult situations has been rewarding for the coaching staff and in pursuit of third state final four berth in the past five years, the maturity is a valuable asset.
Being able to host three tournament games to start the postseason is also a nice bonus for Jackson, which finished the regular season ranked second in the state behind Upper Arlington in the most recent LaxPower.com rankings. For a program in pursuit of its first state title - and the first in school history for a girls athletic team - the home games were an extension of the home field dominance the Polar Bears have built the past few seasons as well as the initial steps toward their ultimate goal.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB