Jackson girls lacrosse off to another hot start

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Riley Floyd (2) of Jackson celebrates her goal with Kenzie Adams (22) during their game at Hoover on Tuesday, April 27, 2021.

JACKSON TWP.  A 13-2 start to the season is nothing new for Jackson girls lacrosse.

The Polar Bears have been one of the area’s best programs over the past decade, making trips to the state semifinals and finals, racking up gaudy win totals end sending waves of players on to the college level. But after a missed season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a nearly two-year hiatus between their most recent season and the current campaign, their strong start this spring is a breath of fresh air.

Veteran head coach John Kroah knows that at a program such as Jackson, the standards are always high and the expectation is not just a good regular season, but a long tournament run.

Still, he appreciates what several of the bigger wins on the schedule have meant to his squad.

“Hudson and New Albany are always big games for us.  Both are well-respected programs that have a long history of great coaches and great players,” Kroah said. “These have historically been the teams that we have to beat to get out of our region and to the state finals.  Both have become annual rivalry games for us.”

Of course, those weren't the only big wins and memorable moments so far. A 13-4 win over arch rival Hoover is a highlight in any year, but after a missed season, the two rivals were more than eager to face one another. Winning that contest was a great mid-season boost and as Jackson continues its march toward the tournament, every ounce of momentum is a valuable commodity.

Kroah noted the intensity on both sides in any Jackson-Hoover game and cited the progress the Vikings have made under head coach Emily Bergert.

Defender Camryn Meek and goalie Hannah Sanders have played an integral part in Jackson’s success at the defensive end and Kroah noted how the duo have blended well with the rest of the defense to form a formidable unit.

Anna Kloehn (center) Jackson reacts after taking a stick to the head by Lauren Evans (left) of Hoover during their game at Hoover on Tuesday, April 27, 2021.

 “Both have fit nicely with the other defenders – Ava Peterson, Ally Stalnaker, Allie Hartnett, Peyton Baker, Annise Berkeley, Catalina Gonzalez and Victoria Leonard – to build unity and trust in our defense,” Kroah said, praising the unit buying into “the true meaning and mindset of being a championship defense.”

Of course, a good defense is one part of the equation, but a strong offense is a must for any group with championship aspirations.

Through the first 15 games of the season, junior Chelsea Debevec has notched 73 goals and 23 assists, while junior Allie Hartnett has notched 68 goals and 13 assists while junior Riley Floyd has added 27 goals.

It’s an offense with its focal points, but also other scorers capable of finding the back of the net on a regular basis.

Missing last season did take away a valuable chance for this year’s seniors, juniors and sophomores to play high school lacrosse, but because most members of the roster play on the club scene and some of the juniors played varsity as freshmen, the slate wasn’t totally blank when it comes to experience.

Although it makes sense that a great beginning could lead to a team revising and upgrading its expectations for what it could accomplish, Kroah insists that the aims are the same now as they were at the outset of the season.

 “The high expectations of this program were set many years ago by all the great players and coaches that laid the foundation for us to try our best to continue to build on,” Kroah said. “The shoes we try and fill every year are big, but I’m really proud of our athletes this year at both the JV and varsity level for the level and commitment and effort they bring every day. It’s made our jobs as coaches pretty easy.”

Conversely, the Polar Bears have made life difficult for opponents and find themselves once again eyeing a deep postseason run as the year winds down. It’s familiar ground for the program, but also something different after a most unusual and challenging year.