Jackson girls fighting through early challenges

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

JACKSON TWP. The start of the season hasn't been smooth sailing for the Jackson Polar Bears.

The reigning Federal League girls basketball champions have faced the usual challenges that come with a new season, combined with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on sports and society, seasoned with the larger target on their backs that comes with winning the league last season.

Lauren Pallotta (23) of Jackson passes to a teammate while being guarded by Regann Jeffries (right) of Hoover during their game at Jackson on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020.

Keeping all of that in mind, their 4-2 start and 2-2 league mark both illustrate the hurdle they've faced and offer positives to build on for the remainder of the campaign.

"It definitely a feel good game to beat McKinley at home, especially with the rocky start we had, it's a positive step," Jackson head coach Anthony Butch said.

The McKinley win leveled the Polar Bears' league record and given the tough test the Bulldogs have presented for the past few years, any win over them is a big building block. Butch knows that this is a much different season than any before it for his team - or any team, for that matter - and admitted that the Polar Bears aren't quite as far along in their development as they would be in a typical year.

Whether they can expedite the learning process will be a defining factor the rest of the way, but the pandemic has shown time and again that the only certainty is constant change.

"We're definitely behind where we'd like to be and there are a lot of factors with that, from having our volleyball kids get a late start on the season to having numerous kids quarantined and being bitten by the injury bug as well," Butch said. "I'm not sure we've had a practice with our full varsity squad yet."

Like other coaches dealing with similar difficulties, Butch isn't looking to make any excuses, but merely to deal with the new normal facing his program and figure out how to overcome the challenges. Those challenges have included last-minute game cancellations as scheduled foes have dealt with contact tracing issues, quarantine and other pandemic-related problems.

A scheduled league game against Lake was postponed because the Blue Streaks were in quarantine, while a scheduled Perry contest was pushed back 24 hours prior to tip-off.

Rather than simply replace those games with a normal practice the day of the contest, Jackson has tried to bring a more competitive vibe to its activities on those days when it was supposed to be playing a game.

"When games have canceled we treat the day we were supposed to play the game just like a game as far as having an intra-squad scrimmage," Butch said. "This early in the season we have definitely faced a lot of adversity with kids being out and two tough league losses ... it's been a little bit of humble pie for us, but our toughness and effort and focus have been greatly improved day to day and week to week."

The hope is that those qualities propel Jackson into a successful 2021 portion of their schedule, however that schedule turns out in terms of games being played. Part of that success figures to be players such as freshman guard Megan Campbell, a player whom Butch called the team's most improved since the start of the season.

Campbell has carved out a role for herself in the early going and according to Butch, hasn't backed down in big moments of key games against league rivals.

Campbell's progress serves as a microcosm of what the Polar Bears will need the rest of the way if they're going to battle their way back into the league race. That, along with heavy doses of adaptability and perseverance, are valuable commodities in a most unusual season for all involved.