JACKSON TWP. Some seasons are measured differently.
In a given year, a team may lose a large chunk of its roster from the previous season due to graduation, or undergo a coaching change that sends the program in a new direction. It's precisely that kind of season for the Jackson boys bowling team, which has enjoyed some outstanding seasons in the past decade, but finds itself in a situation where it returned just a small number of bowlers with significant varsity experience and it adjusting to a new head coach.
First-year head coach Alan Blakley steps in as the Polar Bears' head coach, replacing Michael Cochran at the helm. He inherits a young roster that is working to find its way against a difficult schedule filled with talented opponents.
"The team's overall performance is great. We don't have a lot of wins, but their averages have gotten better just within this little bit of the year," Blakley said of his team.
Jake Cochran and Andrew Austin, the latter of whom floated between the junior varsity and varsity teams last season, are the two most-experienced bowlers on the roster when it comes to battling varsity competition, according to Blakley.
Perhaps, it shouldn't be a surprise that Cochran, Austin and Bobby Turkalj have been Jackson's leading scorers through the first four matches of the campaign. With a 1-3 record, the Polar Bears have taken their lumps and are hoping to respond to those setbacks by improving, adjusting and faring better the rest of the way.
"The team's biggest strengths are rallying together and making adjustments," Blakley said. "We are a newer team and they are learning quickly."
As the bowlers learn more about themselves as individuals as well as collectively, they're also working to learn their new head coach's style and doing so while also trying to win matches.
In a competitive setting in which every pin matters, the smallest details can make the biggest difference. While picking up an extra pin or getting a spare after a tough split on the first roll of a frame may not be as flashy as bowling strike after strike, the Polar Bears are learning that taking care of those details is going to factor heavily into their success.
"Our team is looking to grow in the area of spares and understanding the dynamics of the lane differences," Blakley said. "The goal this year is to be consistent no matter the bowling alley we are at."
Finding consistency can be one of the most difficult tasks for a young team to accomplish. Younger bowlers have more lessons to learn and understanding the nuances of lanes and oil patters is just one part of the equation. Figuring out a way to have consistent mechanics and pick each other up on days when one bowler in the lineup may be having an off day are also part of the growing process.
Part of the good news is that the Polar Bears improved their team score from match to match in contests against Sandy Valley, Perry and Green, going from 2,047 against the Cardinals to 2,208 against the Panthers to 2,313 against the Bulldogs. That sort of continued progress is what Blakley and his team are after over the rest of the season and if they can keep that upward trajectory going, they'll be able to end the year well ahead of where they began.
Sometimes, when facing the challenges the Polar Bears have in front of them this season, that's one of the biggest achievements a team can gain.