Jackson-Milton unbeaten after 7
By BRIAN DZENIS
The Jackson-Milton High School girls basketball team isn’t inclined to call itself a favorite for a district title, but the numbers say otherwise.
The Bluejays have jumped out to a 7-0 start, joining Poland and South Range as the area’s remaining undefeated teams, but that’s not the only thing that says they’re a contender.
This past weekend, the team vanquished its nemesis, two-time defending district champion Western Reserve, 40-37, to sit on top of the Inter Tri-County League Blue Tier.
“They were 2-3, but I knew better,” Bluejays assistant coach Dave Crismon said Sunday of the Blue Devils. “One, it’s a rivalry game. Two, they beat us three times in a row. And three, they’re the two-time district champions.
“To go into a hostile environment, and it was hostile, it was very loud and very aggressive and they played extremely well,” Crismon said. “For us to go in there and come out with the win is huge for them because they realized, ‘hey, we can do this.’
“But we have a long way to go.”
The Bluejays’ starting five has its share of underclassmen. Juniors Kaitlyn Totani and her sister Ashley Totani average in double figures with 15 and 11 points. Sophomore Michaelina Terranova puts up 13 a game in Jackson-Milton’s three-pronged attack.
“We move the ball around, we pass to work the defense down and then when the shot opens up, score,” Terranova said.
In the frontcourt, sophomore Emily Williams is new to the starting lineup, where she’s joined by Olivia Wolfe, the team’s lone senior.
“We’ve played together for two years now and we’re the same group as last year,” Wolfe said. “We’re all starting to click and we’re all playing together so it’s working really well.”
Most of Jackson-Milton’s wins have come in blowout fashion, but the Western Reserve game showed the team can win ugly as well. In a fourth quarter where both teams combined for 12 points, it took two consecutive steals by Wolfe near the end of the game that helped create the foul shots needed to escape Berlin Center with the win.
The victory puts the Bluejays in the spotlight, but head coach Pat Keney and his players’ humility won’t allow them to be presumptuous about postseason chances.
“While we’re 7-0 right now, we have big games coming up,” Keney said. “We don’t look past any of them because they all have good coaches that I respect, they’ve been around for a long time.
“We have a good league and we have to finish out our season against good programs,” said Keney, a who is in his sixth season at the helm. “We’re really excited.
“We worked in June a lot, we went to two camps and a summer league at West Branch and we worked really hard and the kids understand what hard work is about” Keney said. “We all have a goal, we’d like to finish the season out and get to the next level, but we know it’ll be tough.”
For a team this young with that much continuity and a trip to a district final already under its belt, there are expectations for similar results. “It’s about our whole team, we couldn’t score without them,” Kaitlyn Totani said. “We’re about assists and passing, everybody opens up shots for everybody.”
While the team mostly has remained the same from last season, the ITCL split from two tiers into three. So far, the Bluejays have proven to be the best among schools of its size.
“When we went to the three-tier system, we knew McDonald was there, Reserve was there, Leetonia always plays us tough, so we never went in saying ‘it’s ours,’” Crismon said. “We respect everybody, but we don’t fear anybody.
“Last year we were kind of on the outside looking in and when we were in that upper tier,” Crismon said. “We thought South Range would be tough to beat and we competed with them, but we lost twice.”
All systems are go as the Bluejays look toward the second half of the season where they’ll play most of the teams they’ve already beat plus undefeated South Range. Maybe when all that is done, they can finally start thinking about that district title.
“That’s a goal of ours, to win the league, so that’s what we hope for, but we still have to take it a game at a time,” Kaitlyn Totani said. “I don’t want to go [too far] ahead.”