JACKSON TWP. It’s difficult to argue that the regular season was anything but a rousing success for the Jackson girls tennis team.
The team entered the final week of the regular season rolling, with its only loss at the hands of arch rival Hoover. While any Jackson team will have lingering sting from any loss to the Vikings, that defeat against a litany of solid wins attests to the solid footing on which the Polar Bears find themselves as they head to the sectional tournament next week.
"We’re 15-1 on the year and we’re had outstanding year given the fact that graduated two top senior players from last year," head coach Jennifer Janson said. "What the girls did over the offseason has helped lot. They’ve played up and they improved immensely over the winter."
Janson described this as "an outstanding year considering we are a very young team with one returning senior letterwinner." That senior letterwinner, Molly Altman, isn’t the only senior on the roster, but she’s the one with the most varsity experience.
Others on the varsity roster, including junior Shreyaa Nagajothi, sophomore Emma Henson and the doubles teams of junior McKenzie Ecrement and sophomore Samantha Reese and junior Jillian Cardi and senior Marissa Schoeppner have all had key wins over the course of the season.
It was the balance of the lineup that helped Jackson win its first 13 matches of the season, although Hoover ultimately won the league by capturing the regular-season and tournament titles, capturing titles in four of the five divisions in the tournament. Jackson ranked second in the league this year and Cardi and Schoeppner were the only ones to down a Hoover foe to prevent the Vikings from winning all five spots at the tournament.
"I do think in the Federal League this year, you’ve got Hoover at the top, then us … Perry is a greatly improved team this year and GlenOak is right there with them," Janson said.
She noted that Green, which was a top contender the past few seasons, lost five outstanding seniors from last season and has struggled this year as it has worked a bunch of new players into the mix. Last season, Hoover, Jackson and Green battled it out for the top spot. This time around, Hoover took the lead and never relinquished it.
Despite coming in second in the league, Jackson is feeling good about itself entering the postseason. One reason for that is the Polar Bears will host the sectional tournament after more courts were added at their home venue, North Park, directly across from the school. As Janson pointed out, it is both very convenient for her team and also a nice development from the past structure of the sectional event, which was split between two locations.
"With us now having 10 courts at our home park it’s nice for all of the schools because you don’t have your singles players at one location and doubles at a different one," Janson said. "With 10 courts right there, you can be there to help your players and talk to them when they need you."
Given that the league rivals who made the season challenging populate much of the sectional field, it’s fair to say that the road to the districts and beyond won’t be easy for the Polar Bears.
The tough tests posed by Hoover, Perry and various non-league foes should have them well prepared for the tournament, where every point takes on added emphasis. The roster has taken big steps forward since the end of last season, so taking their progress a few more steps down the road seems within reach.
A successful regular season doesn’t guarantee an equally impactful postseason, but Jackson remains optimistic that it can set the table well for a winning end of the year.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB