JACKSON TWP.  Jackson boys lacrosse has rarely shied away from playing a tough schedule in recent years and as the 2019 season comes to a close, this year’s squad ended its run with a winning record against a taxing slate.

The Polar Bears won their first-round Region 2 tournament game before falling to parochial power Lakewood St. Edward in the second round, finishing with a 10-9 record against a schedule that saw them play powers such as Hudson, New Albany, Mentor and others.

“We fell a little short of our expectations, but battled a very tough schedule will a relatively young team,” fourth-year head coach Bobby Lyle said. “We showed that we were able to compete with any team we faced.”

Indeed, Jackson battled Lakewood St. Edward twice and lost by a single goal in the first game. There was also a three-overtime loss to Hudson and several other close losses that both underscored the razor-thin margin that often separates good teams and reinforced the idea that Jackson could compete with most any foe.

Low-scoring, defense-first games were a hallmark of the season, be it contests like a 9-7 loss to arch rival Hoover or a 7-6 win over Walsh Jesuit. Those close games provided plenty of chances to learn, grow and improve in pressure situations, with those lessons likely to come in handy for the younger players who comprised much of the roster this season.

In games when the offense had a hard time finding its rhythm, the Polar Bears leaned on their defensive capabilities as a way to stay in the contest.

“Our biggest strength this season was the depth and experience of our defense,” Lyle said. “Our defense allowed us to compete with some of the best teams in northeast Ohio. Our biggest challenge was our overall youth mixed in with some tough injuries down the stretch.”

Youth was evident in the fact that the team had just six seniors, meaning that new faces around the field were part of the process, a fact amplified by injuries over the course of the season that pushed more new players into the starting lineup.

The offense was led by one of those seniors, Cole Remlinger, who tallied 56 goals and 33 assists, and juniors Mark Dennis (41 goals and a team-high 41 assists) and Victor Shott (25 goals, six assists).

The defense had a bit more experience than the offense, with senior goalie Adam Kelly completing his fourth season as the starter with 180 goals and a 61-percent save rate. In front of him, senior Ben Burch (19 forced turnovers) and juniors E.J. Paulhardt (62 ground balls, 30 forced turnovers) and Ethan Adkins (35 ground balls, 14 forced turnovers) helmed the defense and became a steadying force as the squad’s younger players grew and settled in. Several sophomores and freshman saw large roles as the year wore on, providing optimism for the Polar Bears heading into the offseason.

The senior class, which included Kelly, Remlinger, Burch, Billy Hug, Dylan Mueller and Logan Fisher, may not have made up a huge chunk of the roster, but delivered much of its leadership and production statistically. Lyle knows that replacing a four-year starter in goal and other key members of the lineup won’t be easy, even if there are talented underclassmen waiting to step up.

“This was the first class I was able to have all four years as head coach,” Lyle said. “They brought a winning culture to our program and helped lay out what the expectations are to be on our team.  I cannot thank them enough for their four years of dedication and hard work.”

For the players who do return next season, they enter the offseason knowing that next year’s schedule will likely be just as challenging, mostly because that’s simply a way of life for the Polar Bears. How well they train and prepare for it is the unknown in the equation, and based on what they showed this season, there’s reason for optimism.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936

or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com

On Twitter: @aharrisBURB