It was another memorable season for Jackson and Central Catholic sports, with multiple fall sports teams combined from the two schools reaching the state level, multiple league titles, three more squads reaching the state level in the spring and another individual state title for Jackson senior tennis player Joey Thomas. Along the way, there were dramatic wins, clutch performances and a few heartbreaking moments as well. The two schools met on the field of play in some sports and dueled against the best in the state in others, authoring another great year for athletic programs that have established themselves among the best in Stark County. Here is the second half of our year in review for the Jackson sports community.

JANUARY

n Jackson senior swimmer Josh Weiland won the 100 breaststroke and swam a leg for the winning 200 medley relay as the Polar Bears defeated defending district champion Hudson. It was also a good meet for junior Gigi Kinney, whose strong relay performances helped the girls team in their meet against the Explorers.

The underclassmen on the girls team continued to play a big role as sophomore Leanna Myers led her team to a win at the Northeast Classic as part of the winning 200 medley relay and the winner of the 100 breaststroke. Sophomore Emerson Hoover topped the team’s divers with a score of 220.15 in a win over Green as the Polar Bears generated momentum heading toward the postseason.

n On the basketball court, solid bench play was a big factor for the Jackson boys team as the Polar Bears started 6-0 in league play. Sophomore Jaret Pallotta helped lead the bench crew with 8.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in a five-game span.

Junior standout Kyle Young stepped up later in the month, averaging 24.0 points and 9.3 rebounds over the course of a week in which his team defeated Perry and Springfield and suffered a narrow defeat to Canton McKinley.

n The playmaking abilities of junior Julia Hartnett were a big factor for the Jackson girls team, which started 11-3. Hartnett tallied 15 points, 12 assists and seven steal in wins over New Philadelphia and Lake. 

n Senior boys bowler Hunter Shelton had a strong outing at the Division I sectional preview tournament, rolling a 702 series as Jackson placed third as a team. 

n Central Catholic found itself catching up on the basketball court thanks to the football team’s run to the Division V state championship game. After a loss to Sandy Valley in their opener, the Crusaders won six straight games to get their season on track.

FEBRUARY

n The North Canton Division I boys basketball district tournament emerged as one of the most grueling brackets in the whole state, featuring the entire Federal League and its four 15-win teams. Jackson fell short of its goal of reaching the regional tournament for the second straight season, but 16 wins and a district semifinal berth were proof that the program has established itself as a solid presence in Stark County.

n The final home game of the season for Jackson's girls basketball team featured a heartwarming moment as senior Jackie Custer, whose battle with cancer has rallied the community, was able to suit up and score a layup off the opening tap against West Branch.

n Former Jackson standout Anna Alkire found a role contributing off the bench for Mount Union, including a career-high six points in a win over Wilmington. Another former Jackson basketball player, College of Charleston sophomore Evan Bailey, was named to the 2016 College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-District men’s basketball team.

n The Jackson boys swimming team captured the Federal League title with a win over Hoover, capping a 10-0 regular season as junior Franklin Shew won the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke. The following week, freshman Wesley Currier won the 200 freestyle and placed second in the 500 freestyle at the junior varsity league championship meet.

At the Division I district championship meet, senior Victoria Addis set the school and Stark County record in the 100 breaststroke, recording a time of 1:04.52 that earned her consideration for All-American status. Combined, the boys and girls team advanced 12 swimmers to the state meet.

n Junior wrestler Billy LaMothe won an impressive victory wrestling at 220 pounds against perennial league and state power Perry. Teammates Victor Marcelli (31-3) and Seth Whitehead (29-6) led the team in wins and junior Devin Flagg (14-7) also posted a solid record.

n On the lanes, senior Elizabeth Loan rolled a 402 series in Jackson’s showdown with Hoover as the Polar Bears improved to 9-4 overall and 6-3 in league play.

n Senior guard Justin Johnston scored a season-high 15 points in a 103-92 win over Wooster, helping the Jackson boys basketball team pick up a big win as it moved toward the postseason.

n Senior baseball player Noah Evans committed to play baseball at Cuyahoga Community College, becoming the latest member of the program to secure a chance to play at the college level.

MARCH

n After three impressive wins to start the postseason, the Jackson boys basketball team suffered a four-point loss to McKinley in the district finals as the Bulldogs slowed the game down and were able to defend well enough to earn a 51-47 win. Central Catholic, which entered the postseason as the fourth seed in the Salem Division III bracket, saw a similarly defensive-minded contest end its season as a 44-38 loss to Fairless brought the Crusaders’ campaign to a close.

n The Central girls team made history, coming within two wins of a state tournament berth and finishing 20-7, along with a district championship. The Crusaders allowed just 31.3 points per game in their four tournament wins before falling to fellow parochial power Gilmour Academy in a Cuyahoga Falls Division III regional semifinal.

n Biz Graeff, whose Jackson swimming career was one of the best in recent program history, continued her sophomore season swimming for the United States Naval Academy and despite waking up by 5 a.m. almost every day, called the experience “a perfect fit.” The current Jackson swimming standouts following in her footsteps claimed 11 first-team spots as the Federal League honored its best swimmers and divers for the season.

n Spring sports opened up shop as Jackson baseball christened its new synthetic-surface infield and ballpark makeover, including upgraded dugout amenities and an overhauled walkway leading to the field.

n Marcelli made it back to the Division I state wrestling meet, overcoming a minor knee injury and a semifinal loss to place third at 170 pounds, honoring the memory of his late brother, Lucas Marcelli, as he wrestled with the initials “LM” on his headgear.

APRIL

n Jackson boys tennis rolled to wins in its first 12 matches of the season, including triumphs over Toledo St. John, Lexington, Cincinnati Sycamore and Columbus St. Charles. Seniors Joey Thomas and Jake Zalenski fueled the run and Anthony Kanam continued his strong run for the Polar Bears with several big wins.

The doubles team of Ian Shields and Mitch Sloan won three matches in a single week, including a three-set victory over the fourth-ranked team in the state from New Albany.

n The track and field season began with the Jackson boys and girls teams posting a combined roster of 250 athletes, making the program one of the largest in the area. Senior Greta Taylor started off well with wins in the 3,200 and 800 against Canton McKinley, along with a leg on the winning 3,200 relay. Fellow senior Sam Hyde won the 200 and placed second in the 400 to pace the Polar Bears to  win over McKinley on the boys’ side of the meet.

n Senior softball player Lindsey Clemson battled .636 in Jackson’s first three games, leading the team in hits and recording three triples.

n On the diamond, senior Jon Conkle helped Jackson to a win over Hoover by going 3 for 3 and driving in four runs. Central Catholic barreled its way to a 17-2 record during the month, riding an experienced group of seniors to a series of impressive wins in what was soon revealed to be veteran head coach Doug Miller’s final season.

n Jackson girls lacrosse set out to get back to the state tournament and went undefeated in the month of April despite a coaching change as John Kroah took over from Elizabeth McCormick, who remained on staff in an assistant role. Junior Julia Hartnett was the team’s top scorer, recording multiple multi-goal games.

n Anna Seanor, a former Jackson lacrosse star, appeared in six early games for Ohio State and continued her transition from the middle of the field at Jackson to defender with the Buckeyes. Jackson boys lacrosse got a boost from freshman goalie Adam Kelly, who made 16 saves in his first varsity state and adding eight more in the following game as he earned his first varsity win against Perrysburg.

n Jackson boys volleyball laid the foundation for a history-making season by winning seven of its first 10 matches behind seniors Ben Perez and Josh Jackson. A win over Hudson keyed the early-season success, which included a 12-match winning streak that spanned April and May.

MAY

n Senior baseball players Mitch Balla and Chad Matthus both made their college commitments, with Matthus signing with West Liberty State and Balla signing with Notre Dame College. Ben Seaman, a senior starter for the boys basketball team, committed to Baldwin Wallace.

n The versatility of senior Nate Mallue, an Ohio University recruit, proved valuable for the boys track team. Mallue developed a habit of asking head coach Scott Stayer before each meet if he was needed in any different events that day and Stayer occasionally took Mallue up on the offer, shifting him to different events in order to help the team. The boys team finished third at the Federal League championship meet, posting multiple top-three finishes. Junior Ian Harty placed third in the pole vault at the North Canton Division I district meet to earn a spot at the Austintown regional meet. For the Jackson girls, the 3,200 relay team of Gigi Kinney, Kayla Chapman, Greta Taylor and Shira Weiner had a new top time and placed second at the league meet.

n A new offensive system with more motion continued to pay dividends for the girls lacrosse team, which roared into the postseason undefeated behind seniors such as Anna Giulitto and Morgan Furbay. With a 15.5 goals-per-game scoring average, the Polar Bears ended the regular season ranked second in the laxpower.com state rankings. Giulitto committed to Kennesaw State for lacrosse, adding another accomplishment to a successful senior year. Teammate Mary Davide signed with Butler University later in the month, giving the program another Division I signee.

n Senior Mitch Doling had three goals and three assists for the boys lacrosse team as Jackson downed Green and the Polar Bears wrapped up the regular season by pushing Hoover to overtime before falling 14-13. The two teams met just over a week later in the postseason, with the Vikings claiming another victory.

n The boys tennis team sent multiple competitors to the state tournament and placed second once again as Thomas captured his second straight state singles title, with Zalenski finishing third in the tournament.

n In a week filled with seven games, junior Diana Yunkin batted .458 for the Jackson softball team, including two extra-base hits. Solid hitting from senior Zach Mottice propelled the baseball team to another undefeated week, including a Federal League win over Lake in which Mottice had two hits and three runs scored. A no-hitter against Canton McKinley the following week by junior Kyle Nicolas kept Jackson undefeated and ranked first in the state in Division I.

n A showdown between Jackson and Central, both ranked first in their respective divisions, was one of the highlights of the local baseball season. Jackson won 3-0 in a low-scoring, intense game that saw strong pitching performances on both sides. The win boosted the Polar Bears to 19-0 and saw Central’s best scoring chance end with Austin Marko tagged out at home trying to score in the bottom of the sixth inning.

n Jackson boys volleyball reached the state tournament for the first time since its return, defeating Cleveland St. Ignatius along the way. David Smith had 32 kills, 15 digs and a 39-percent kill rate for the week to help his team raise its record to 17-5. Central Catholic and Jackson both claimed district baseball titles, winning in impressive fashion to continue stellar seasons. Central coach Doug Miller noted that it was a great development for local baseball “that us and Jackson are still alive.” 

JUNE

n Magical seasons came to an end as both Jackson and Central suffered surprising, close regional baseball tournament losses. Stow upset the Polar Bears, while Elyria Catholic toppled the Crusaders. Both Jackson and Central ended the year ranked in the top 10 in the state and the Polar Bears set a school record for wins in a season. Miller ended his 34-year run at Central with three state championships, including one in 2015.

n The run lasted a bit longer for the Jackson girls lacrosse team, which reached its first state championship game and was tied 5-5 at halftime with top-ranked Upper Arlington before UA outscored the Polar Bears 4-1 in the second half to claim the title. It was a disappointing ending, but it was the third state final four appearance in the careers of the team’s seniors. The game put an exclamation point on the entire sports year for Jackson, ending a school year that began with the August heat and came to a close the following spring. It featured history being made, futures being forged and the next generation of Jackson and Central standouts stepping up to take their places.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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