Jackson girls basketball navigating challenges

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

JACKSON TWP. At a time when distance learning has become the norm for students and teachers across the country, in-person education is arguably more valuable than ever.

The Jackson Polar Bears have seen that truth borne out through their first three games of the season as they've won two out of three contests and in the process, discovered quite a bit about themselves as a team. Wins over Northwest and Green and a loss to Hoover have highlighted both the challenges Jackson is facing in a COVID-impacted campaign and areas where the Polar Bears want to refocus their efforts.

Emma Dretke (13) of Jackson puts up a shot while being guarded by Angela Roshak (22) during their game at Jackson on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020.

"The big ones are ball movement and the intensity with which we play, along shot selection. Those are the three things we're focusing on mainly," eighth-year head coach Anthony Butch said. "We're showing the girls those things and coach them up. We're watching lots of film from last year's team and trying to show them the things we did last year that we're not doing now."

Last season, the Polar Bears won their first outright Federal League title and also won 20 games. Many members of that squad are back this season, but as any athlete or coach knows, every season is a new entity and past success doesn't give a team a tangible edge in future seasons.

Each season starts from scratch, meaning all a team can carry forward is the lessons it's learned from previous years. Of course, no experience can quite compare to what this year has brought in terms of a new reality that's unlike anything before it.

Not only did the pandemic alter the offseason and prevent teams from doing many of the activities they'd engage in over the summer in terms of camps, summer leagues and other activities, but it continues to affect the way they go about their business now that the season is underway.

Hoover at Jackson Girls Basketball; Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020.

"We're working on getting the team to come together and play as one when we lost basically the whole summer in terms of we didn't get a lot of chances for team competition over the summer," Butch said, noting that getting the team to gel with COVID looming over everything is no easy task. "Not being able to do team feeds and different team bonding activities, it has been tough."

Three games in, the coaching staff has worked to reevaluate its approach and see what changes can be made to help chemistry and cohesion on the court.

Seniors Alayna McMullen, Ava Scroggs and Kylie Hawke are the veterans on the roster and are stepping into their chance to lead after seeing previous senior classes make their mark on the program. Junior forward Emma Dretke, a three-year starter, has led the team in scoring in two of the first three games and remains a focal point of the offense.

One possible bump in the road is the health of sophomore forward Lauren Pallotta, who has been dealing with a foot injury and could miss court time going forward. That would put a bit more pressure on Dretke and sophomore Leena Patibandla to power the Polar Bears in the paint.

Amidst the first few games and scheduled contests going forward, the omnipresent elephant in every room is the threat of COVID-19 pausing or shutting down the season. Numerous area schools and many others across Ohio have already paused their seasons, leaving those teams still playing with holes in their schedule and the knowledge that they could be next if the virus' effect on their roster or district spreads enough to force their administration to call off games.

Jackson, like many other local schools, has gone to a distance learning model. It's that part of students' days, Butch noted, that looks the most different at this point when compared to a typical season.

"Overall, once you're in the gym, other than the masks and social distancing, it feels like any other year. It's all of the stuff outside of practice, like not being able to come to school, and the routines outside of basketball that are really different," Butch said, "We tell the kids every day that we don't know when this whole thing is going to get shut down, so we tell the girls every practice or game, don't take it for granted."

That appreciation for simply being able to get out of the house, be around friends and play a game they enjoy is one of the many lessons the pandemic has delivered for players and coaches this season. Whether it continues and for how long is out of their hands, so all they can do is make the most of the opportunities they do have and do their part to keep the season going.