JACKSON TWP. It's early in the process for the Jackson girls lacrosse team, but the upcoming season is shaping up to be one of possibilities for the Polar Bears. Following a down season one year ago, a large contingent of returning players is eager to bounce back and prove that they've learned from last year and can get the program back to its winning ways.
"Our strength should be in the number of returning starters that we will have on the team," head coach John Kroah said. "The only question myself and the coaching staff has is if they have matured as a team both physically and mentally."
Losing seasons don't come along that often for the program – at least not in recent years – so how the Polar Bears rebound this spring is something to pay attention to in the coming weeks. Given that the preseason is winding down and the first games of the spring are inching closer, there's a lot the coaching staff won't know until the regular season begins.
Kroah admitted that with it being early on, it's "very hard, at this point, to tell exactly where we are both individually and as a team."
Seniors such as Abigail Lair and Carly Johnson are among the returnees, but the majority of the roster is comprised of a large sophomore class. Overall, it's a smaller roster and one with quite a few players who don't have large amounts of varsity experience.
"With only 36 athletes on our roster to cover both a JV and varsity team, expectations will be high for those players that didn’t see much varsity time last year," Kroah noted. "There will be many opportunities for these athletes to step in and step up."
Opportunities will begin, at least in the sense of games that count, on the team's annual spring break trip to North Carolina. There, Jackson will once again tangle with some of the best teams that state has to offer before returning home to continue the season.
The trip doubles as a chance to play in warmer weather early in the season as well as a team-building event and previous trips have proven beneficial in developing chemistry and camaraderie within the squad.
"This will be our toughest regular season schedule that we have ever played," Kroah said. "We start our season in Charlotte playing four of the top 10 teams in the state in Lake Norman, Charlotte Latin, Marvin Ridge and Weddington and we also have Hudson, New Albany, Upper Arlington, Everest Academy (Canada) Shadyside (Pa.), just to name a few."
To get ready for the season, there has been the traditional on-field preparation along with lifting and conditioning, but according to Kroah, there has also been a focus on the mental side of the game. For a team with a large chunk of its players adapting to playing at the varsity level either for the first time or in a bigger role than they've ever had, being mentally ready for what lies ahead is important.
There are bound to be tough games, setbacks and challenges ahead, so being able to handle those, be prepared for them and process them as they happen has been a point of emphasis thus far.
"We have spent a considerable amount of time thus far working on the mindset and the visualization part of the game," Kroah said. "Today’s athletes live in a world of sensory overload and instant gratification. Getting them to slow down and to trust the process is no easy task but we work on this every day both on and off the field."
When it comes to goals for the season, Kroah said there standards set are not about specific numbers of wins and losses, but about overall growth and representing the school, program and community well throughout the year.
With their first chances to do that in a game setting nearing, the Polar Bears have much work left to do and increasingly little time to get it done. Whether this year brings more wins than last season is to be seen, but at this point, it's a chance for a fresh start and to write a new story.