JACKSON TWP. This is the "what’s next" part of the story for Jackson girls basketball.
True, Jackson basketball has said farewell to Division I college recruits before, but this time it’s the girls team making the transition from its all-time leading scorer to the next chapter in its tale. Head coach Anthony Butch and his staff - which now includes former Canton Central Catholic coach Gary Isler - and their players are figuring out a new direction following the graduation of Taylor Mikesell, who on Nov. 9 scored 18 points in her first collegiate game to lead No. 9-ranked Maryland to an 89-36 win against Coppin State.
"Any time you lose the best player in school history and the best senior in Ohio, there’s going to be that notion that we’re not going to be as good as we’ve been the past couple of years," Butch said. "Our incoming group of girls taken as a challenge and they’re excited to show what they can do."
The tangible benefits of Mikesell being gone are easy to identify. Like any coach with a difference-making star player, Butch tailored his game plan the past four years to Mikesell’s immense talents. Her shooting ability was central to the offense and her athleticism and ball-handling ability allowed the coaching staff to give her freedom to create and improvise at times.
Now that she’s gone, the challenge is putting together an offense centered less on one person being the starting point and finding one in which those responsibilities are shared more across the board.
However, Butch said that Mikesell’s impact on the program continues to be felt even though she’s now suiting up a few hundred miles southeast for the Maryland Terrapins.
"Her legacy of strong work ethic has definitely rubbed off on our younger girls," Butch said. "You seem them in the gym shooting before and after practice the way she used to. We also lost eight seniors total and they’ll be missed too."
The success of the past four seasons, which includes two regional tournament appearances, also seems to have had a ripple effect throughout the district. The coaching staff has seen more excitement and interest at the youth level as girls in elementary and middle school have seen or heard about the varsity program’s success and wanted to try basketball and see if they couldn’t be like Mikesell or the other successful varsity players who have suited up for those history-making teams.
When it comes to building this year’s team, there aren’t many players back with varsity experience simply because an eight-person senior class tends to gobble up most of the minutes for a winning team.
One of the players who is back is junior guard Kerianne Dies, who is best remembered for her game-winning shot in the district final against GlenOak, a shot that will be remembered and likely retold within the program for many years. Dies will be counted on to anchor the back court with a slew of new faces around her.
Primary ball handling duties will fall to senior point guard Madie Redpath, who will be asked to initiate the offense after seeing Mikesell handle those tasks for the past four years. Add in junior forward Rachel Stran and you have the core of Jackson’s returning experience. They and the rest of the Polar Bears are sinking their teeth into a new-look offense that Butch, Isler and the rest of the coaching staff have been formulating this offseason.
"We revamped everything … our offense is revamped, our defense is revamped, all of it," Butch said. "Gary Isler, who’s coached for 40 years, had two state titles at GlenOak and spent the last 12 years at central, helped us revamp our offense and things will look a lot different from what we did the past few years."
What hasn’t changed is the schedule, which is fairly similar to what it has been un Butch’s first five seasons at the helm. He admitted that the idea of scheduling easier opponents simply to get wins, even with a less experienced team, wasn’t what he wanted. The fact that a stout, deep Federal League with Canton McKinley, GlenOak, Hoover and others looms and two games against each of those foes is an unavoidable task for every season meant that playing challenging games prior to conference play made sense.
The field for Jackson’s own holiday tournament has changed and is less local than previous editions, as Marysville, Laurel and Glenville round out this year’s field. According to Butch, he posted the event on the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s site for such events and the first three teams to show interest were the ones he took regardless of proximity to Jackson. There are also trips to the Romeo’s Pizza Classic and Quicken Loans Arena for a game against Austintown Fitch, so playing on big stages is a recent trend the Polar Bears will continue.
When it comes to success with a new-look team, Butch goes back to two simple, basic tenets of winning basketball and noted that he’s also gotten some good input from a nearby source on moving on from a star player who has graduated.
"The two things for us will be shoot the ball well and play good defense. When you lose a kid who scored 30 points a game, it’s a lock that you need everyone to step up," Butch said, adding that he often talks to Jackson boys head coach Tim Debevec about such topics. "We always talk, me and coach Debevec, and we’re good friends and always bouncing things off each other. I definitely lean on him not just about things like replacing Taylor, but lots of things."
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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