JACKSON TWP. Whatever other characteristics defined Jackson girls lacrosse over the past few years, they all fed into one overarching theme: consistency.
Making multiple state tournament appearances and even reaching the title game were the end points for a team that rolled to double-digit wins every season and often could count its losses on one hand. But this season has been a much difference experience for the Polar Bears, one that sees them enter the final days of the regular season with a 10-7 record and a young, inexperienced roster learning as it goes.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster ride from team’s perspective and the coaches’ perspective and from what we’ve done as a team the past three to four years,” head coach John Kroah said. “Our schedule has been difficult from our Charlotte trip on and it’s also credit to other schools in our area who are really ramping up and committing more to the sport and you’re seeing it from a competition standpoint.”
The Charlotte trip to which Kroah alluded has become a regular part of the team’s schedule over the past few seasons, functioning as a team building project that also sees the Polar Bears play new, unfamiliar and often top teams from another state as a way to shake things up early in the season.
This year, it was also the first signal that the season would be a different one, as losses on the trip highlighted the team’s overall inexperience and need for growth. It also underscored the degree to which the team would rely on its four returning starters to lead the way and help the freshmen and others without a wealth of varsity experience adapt to the varsity level.
“We as coaches have been relying heavily on three or four returning varsity players to lead those other eight or nine freshmen starting or playing on that field,” Kroah said. “Our freshmen understand importance of wearing that jersey and being part of the Jackson program, but they’re still learning how to play on the varsity level and requires a lot of those three or four players.”
The four players - senior Cameron Dingler and juniors Camille Patton, Carly Johnson and Abigail Lair - have gotten help from several underclassmen and for a squad with just three seniors on its roster, contributions from younger players has been a must.
A recent win over Cleveland Heights showed off some of the potential amongst the freshmen and sophomore on the roster as freshmen Chelsea Debevec and Riley Floyd each tallied a team-leading four goals, with the Polar Bears registering 17 overall in a 17-9 win.
Having three seniors on the roster is something Kroah experienced four seasons ago as an assistant and dealing with the ups and downs that come with a young team hasn’t really been part of the equation since then. Along with Debevec and Floyd, the veteran head coach pointed to freshman Allie Hartnett as a player who has proven to be well-rounded in all aspects of the game and has made the most out of her chance to play as a freshman.
With the tournament looming and Jackson still in the process of figuring out who it is as a team, Kroah finds himself invoking a very familiar sports cliche, but one that takes on a new slant with this particular group.
“I think it’s like every other team would say at this time of year, which is one game at a time, but means so much more for us because the team I want to see and the team I have seen at times this season, will that be the team that shows up in the tournament on a particular day for a game … but I feel like we have nothing to lose,” Kroah said. “When we’re on, I feel like we can compete with anyone in the state.”
Odds are that the postseason itself will bring more of the ebbs and flows that have happened both over the course of the season and within individual games up to this point. How far the scale tips in one direction or the other may well be the deciding factor when it comes to how far the Polar Bears go in the postseason. With 16 freshmen on the roster compared to just eight players from the other three grades (two sophomores, three juniors and three seniors), two thirds of the team has as many as three more seasons of high school lacrosse ahead.
Those 16 players - and their teammates - are learning the hard way that consistency doesn’t happen quickly or easily and developing over time is the only way a team can have the chance to sustain it.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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