JACKSON TWP. The build continues for Jackson boys volleyball.
In the half a decade since the program returned as a varsity sport at the school, the Polar Bears have reached the state tournament and increased their win total season after season. This year, they’re off to their best start since the program’s revival, posted a 14-2 mark entering the final seven games of the campaign.
"It’s interesting … we went to states a couple of years ago and we had three outstanding players who really led us," head coach Richard Jackson said. "We have outstanding players this year too, but we’re a much more solid team all around."
That solid roster hinges on five seniors who have played a large role in re-establishing the program and while each plays a different role on the team, all five have carved out roles that have contributed to the 14-2 start.
Senior setter Brent Tucke, who will be playing collegiately next season, is the hub of an offense that has been humming along all season long.
"Brent is a player we count on a lot and we’re really going to have a hard time replacing him next season," Jackson said.
Fellow senior Ryan Bruss, whom Jackson characterized as one of the area’s best in the middle of the court, and Garrett Bachtel have emerged as consistent offensive contributors for the Polar Bears. Add in Ethan Soltis at outside hitter and defensive specialist Kevin Zuppe and the senior class has its hand in virtually every area of the team.
The unsung hero, as is often the case for volleyball teams, has been libero Alex Mallette, who plays what Jackson noted "isn’t a glory position" in terms of getting a lot of accolades or highlights on the court, but being a strong defensive presence has made Mallette indispensable to the team.
The seniors gotten plenty of help from junior Cam Ternent, who may be in only his second season playing varsity volleyball, but has already made an outsized impact on the court.
"Cam is really turning a lot of heads and he already has a lot of colleges looking at him even though it’s only his second season," Jackson said, noting that Ternent leads the team in every major offensive category.
Along with the varsity team’s success has come overall growth for the program, as the school now fields two junior varsity squads, one of which is comprised entirely of freshmen.
There is also a youth program for fifth through seventh grades, further building what the Polar Bears hope will be the foundation for long-term success. Their present varsity incarnation is ranked second in the North region for the state behind St. Ignatius, whom Jackson will see on the court before the postseason and quite possibly again once the tournament begins.
Although the roster composition may be different this season than it was for the team’s last state tournament appearance, Jackson says his team is extremely confident that it can sustain its run and make a major impact in the postseason.
"Ball control is important for us and we’ve done a nice job all year … it’s something we preach all the time," he said. "We’re absolutely very confident we can make it to the state tournament and succeed."
That confidence may seem unusual for a program whose current state is not too far removed from a brand new beginning at Jackson, but the results on the court back up that belief and at a school where a state tournament appearance for at least one sport seems to be a staple of each school year, the boys volleyball program would like nothing more than to put itself in a position to add to Jackson’s championship ledger.
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