JACKSON TWP. Now six seasons into its return, Jackson boys volleyball is no longer the new kid on the block.
After multiple state tournament appearances during those six seasons, the Polar Bears have built themselves into a top team with lofty postseason ambitions and multiple players who have gone on to play college volleyball and 10 games into a new season, they’re showing that they have the potential to add more accomplishments to its growing resume.
“We’re 7-3 so far and as a team, we’re happy with where we’re at even though we’d obviously like to have another win or two,” head coach Richard Jackson said. “Our losses have been to Cincinnati St. Xavier, Cincinnati Elder and Columbus St. Charles and they’re all ranked very highly in their regions. We competed very well and we’re not upset with those losses even though we’d like to have won them. We proved to ourselves we can compete with those teams.”
The conversation about Jackson’s ceiling as a team begins with senior Cam Ternent, who is headed to Indiana Tech to continue his career at the college level in a few months, but for now has kept his meteoric rise going following a summer playing club volleyball at a high level with Columbus-based Vanguard.
Ternent, whose highlights last season included a spike hard enough to bloody and break an opponent’s nose, is an athletic front line player whose impact reverberates throughout the lineup.
“Cam has done a great job. He’s leading in all of our categories and many of our defensive categories,” Jackson said. Playing for Vanguard this summer, he was on their best team and, learned a lot what it takes to play against high level of competition.”
What Ternent's success - and that of his teammates, present and past - has done is continue to generate interest in the program throughout the district. In the early days, as the coaches and supporters of bringing the sport back to Jackson tried to lay the foundation for the program, much of their efforts were dedicated to raising awareness and getting players to come out for the team even if they hadn’t played volleyball before.
In those years, the roster often had several players who were brand new to volleyball. Translating their athletic ability to the court and combining it with learning the game was a big part of the process. However, making a couple of state tournament runs has elevated the Polar Bears’ profile and last season, they added a youth program for boys in fifth through eighth grades. The youth program has more than 30 players last season and about the same number this season, creating a new wave of players who could play on the varsity level in the years ahead.
On top of that, there are two junior varsity teams at the high school level, similar to the arrangement of another of the school’s successful programs, the baseball team. Head coach Bill Gamble and his staff have fielded two varsity teams in recent seasons, giving more players a chance to see playing time.
Jackson and his volleyball staff have implemented a second JV team as a way to get experience for their younger players. The JV Purple team consists of 10 players brand new to the sport. The 10 freshmen and sophomores are hoping to rise through the ranks and contribute to the program’s ongoing success.
There are 32 players across all three high school teams and according to Jackson, there is a legitimate belief that another state tournament appearance is within reach.
“Our goal is to be playing bout very best volleyball at end of season as we head to the district and hopefully regional tournaments as well,” Jackson said. “We hope to make it to state championships again.”
To chase that goal, much of the team spent the offseason both playing Junior Olympics volleyball with club teams and also attending workouts at 440 Performance in Green, which is owned by Jackson girls lacrosse coach John Kroah. According to Jackson, more than 20 players partificpayed in the 440 sessions and a similar number played JO volleyball, with both pursuits aimed at getting the Polar Bears not only back to the state tournament, but to a level where they can defeat the state’s top teams and some day bring home the title.
Matches against state-ranked foes such as Hoban and Olentangy Liberty remain before the tournament and those games will tell the Polar Bears a lot about where they stand. Any success along the way to the postseason could help the program appeal to new players and create a larger group of athletes for next season and beyond.
“With our past success, even though we’re still a young program six years in, we continue to get stronger and when you win at a higher level, it breeds a lot of interest from other players in the district,” Jackson said. “When we started youth program last year for fifth through eighth grade and 30 players came out, you can see it’s creating a lot of energy and buzz throughout the community.”
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