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Jackson girls basketball aims to repeat success

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

JACKSON TWP. The start of basketball season tends to sneak up on high school sports fans.

Football dominates the fall and along with other fall sports, there is plenty already going on by the time basketball tips off in November.

Jackson's Emma Dretke (back) pulls down a rebound behind GlenOak's Kamryn Vance during the third quarter of their game at GlenOak last season.

Let's just say that this season won't be sneaking up on the Jackson Polar Bears. The way their 2019-20 season ended, combined with the strangeness that has cloaked sports and life in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has the defending Federal League girls basketball champions itching to tip off.

With a roster of returnees that includes seniors Alayna McMullen, Ava Scroggs and Kylie Hawke, as well as junior standout Emma Dretke, there is reason for optimism on the hardwood this winter for the purple and gold.

"The biggest difference has been that we're not allowed to play anyone other the than ourselves ... the summer camps and shootouts were all canceled, so we went back to the fundamentals," eighth-year head coach Anthony Butch said. "Since June, it's been Jackson only, so past three months have just been workouts and kids working hard on the basics."

Because of that, Butch noted, he believes his players have made more progress than in a normal summer of attending camps, playing in summer leagues and hooping at open gyms.

The downside is the missed chances to build team chemistry through trips to camps and team days at Cedar Point, but those were harbingers of sacrifices to come in what has been and will continue to be a weird time and unusual era for sports in the pandemic.

"Volleyball has been the guinea pig (for indoor sports during the pandemic) and everything has been great so far," Butch said. "They just released our regulations as far as requirements that have to take place for basketball ... the social distancing whenever possible, on the bus no sharing of seats, they have to spread out any time not in competition, wear masks and sanitize things constantly."

Despite those protocols, Butch theorized that girls basketball may not see its atmosphere at games change as much despite restrictions on crowd size at venues.

The district will allow 320 fans – 15 percent of the gym's capacity – and while Jackson has drawn solid crowds during its recent run of success, Butch sees more of a potential for loss of in-game atmosphere at boys basketball games, where sellouts are common.

There is also the reality for all teams that every game – typically two contests per week once the season gets rolling – depend on players, coaches and everyone else around teams and games following protocols and staying virus-free.

According to Butch, Jackson athletic director Dan Michel has preached the importance of keeping everyone's circles small in terms of who they interact with and also not attending large gatherings.

Basketball could face a tougher battle in that regard since its schedule covers the holiday season, when large family and other gatherings are common.

Oh, and back to that abrupt ending to last season, the one that left Jackson players, coaches and fans shaking their heads ... the Polar Bears haven't forgotten the lopsided loss to arch rival Hoover that ended their historic campaign in the district semifinals.

"That's been a hug motivation ... we had great season – arguably one of best in school history with the state ranking, league title and we actually led Ohio in made 3-point baskets – but it was overshadowed by losing to Hoover in the tournament game in the distinct semifinals," Butch said. "We've carried with us these last seven months and it's been fuel to carry us through this difficult offseason."

What happens when that fuel meets the spark that comes with the tip-off of a new season is to be determined, but given the difficulties of the past few months, the start of a new season can't come quickly enough for the Polar Bears.