It’s not a lot of fun to end the season with a loss, which is something
Jackson Center did in last year’s D-IV state semifinals. This time the Tigers want to
shed tears for a different reason. Friday afternoon around 2 p.m., Jackson Center will get that chance.
Fresh off the school’s first appearance in the state volleyball tournament, Jackson Center entered 2008 with a new goal. Winning tends to shift focus.
“I’d always wanted to play in the state tournament, but now that we’ve accomplished that (and lost in the semifinals), the goal now is to WIN at state,” standout junior Casey Gates said. “We need to get back. We need to win.”
Friday afternoon around 2 p.m., Jackson Center will get that chance. The Tigers (26-1) enter the Division IV state tournament ranked No. 1 in the state and face New Washington Buckeye Central (25-2) in the second state semifinal at Wright State’s Nutter Center.
Defending state champion Maria Stein Marion Local takes on Newark Catholic in a rematch of a 2007 state semifinal in the first contest at noon.
If Vegas made odds for Ohio High School volleyball, the Tigers would be the best bet to win state.
Jackson Center returns all but one player from last year’s team and has dominated a challenging schedule that includes Shelby County League rivals Fort Loramie (D-IV regional finalist) and Anna (D-III regional semifinalist) and non-league Division IV foes New Bremen (No. 5 in state), Lehman Catholic (No. 9) and Marion Local (No. 2).
JC beat the Flyers 21-25, 18-25, 25-19, 25-18, 15-12 on Sept. 20 in Maria Stein.
The Tigers only loss is a 21-25, 25-14, 25-21 setback to D-III state semifinalist Lima Central Catholic back on Sept. 13. The Thunderbirds are Ohio’s No. 1 D-III team.
“We can’t play underdog this year,” head coach Kim Metz said. “Everybody is going to be gunning for us because of where we finished.”
After years of frustration at the regional level, Jackson Center broke through for its first championship last year with wins over Lancaster Fisher Catholic and Lehman Catholic. The Tigers fell to Norwalk St. Paul in the state semis in three sets.
The excitement of getting to state and the disappointment of losing drives this year’s team.
“(Losing last year) was really hard on us,” senior standout Allissa Ware said. “Getting to state was amazing, but we were really nervous. Everyone expected us to win that game and we couldn’t pull through. It was disappointing.”
Added Metz: “I think there’s a little bit of unfinished business out there because (the girls) were extremely disappointed with how things finished. I think last year was a little bit of a shock. We were like a deer in the headlights. We’d played at the Nutter Center before but not in a game of that stature. There was a lot going on other than the game.”
This year the Tigers have it going on again.
Despite its past success, this could be Jackson Center’s best team ever. And that’s no small feat for a program that’s produced six district titles and played in three regional finals since 2000.
“This team is a little more balanced and a little more experienced than the previous teams,” Metz said. “I have four kids on this team that have played varsity since they were freshman. Experience is huge.”
One of those weapons is Ware. Recently named first team All-Ohio for the second straight year, Ware is one of Ohio’s top players regardless of division. She was second team All-Ohio as a sophomore.
Said Gates: “(Allissa) can do it all.”
Gates isn’t too bad herself. Honorable mention All-Ohio as a freshman (the only frosh to earn the honor that season), Gates was third team All-Ohio last year and first team this year.
She and Ware are the oil in Jackson Center’s engine.
“(Having Ware and Gates back) is huge,” Metz said. “These girls get under each others skin but they communicate and support each other really well. They push each other’s buttons but there’s nothing more that they want than to win. You can talk about competitiveness, and I’m telling you, these kids rank right up there with anyone. They expect each other to match the intensity the other is playing with. It’s a lot of fun to sit back and watch.”
It’s not a lot of fun to end the season with a loss, which is something Jackson Center aims to avoid this year. This time the Tigers want to shed tears for a different reason.
“I think (the community) just expects us to do well because they know our hearts are in it,” Gates said. “The town is really small and they know us all. They know how much this means to us.
“They know this is all we’ve ever wanted.”