JACKSON TWP. It may have a new home and name, but the former North Canton Division I district tournament is the same old minefield for the 11 teams in its bracket.
The district has shifted from North Canton to Canton this season, with the first two rounds hosted by the higher seed in each game and the final two rounds at the Canton Memorial Field House. A new setting hasn’t changed much other than the surroundings for a district that features the fourth- and ninth-ranked teams in the most recent Associated Press Division I state poll.
“It’s probably the toughest district in the state of Ohio,” Jackson head coach Anthony Butch said.
With Federal League champion GlenOak and runner-up Hoover as the top two seeds, the district is talented at the top. Jackson is seeded third and elected to play a first-round game rather than taking a bye. The Polar Bears open their postseason at home against sixth-seeded Louisville and with a win, they would host Barberton on Jan. 23 in a sectional final game.
Looming ahead, should both teams make it to the district semifinals, is a potential third matchup of the season between Jackson and Hoover. If that rematch happens, it would pit the Vikings against one of their former teammates, Jackson junior Margaux Spencer.
Spencer transferred from Hoover to Jackson at the start of the school year and at first, it wasn’t an easy transition.
“At the beginning of the year it was rough, but my teammates really made me feel welcome and that really made the transition so much better,” Spencer said.
Both Spencer and Butch say she has fit in well on and off the court at Jackson and Spencer likes the academic environment at Jackson better, so she is happy to have made the move. Spencer admitted that based on the season she had with Hoover last year, she wasn’t sure what kind of career she might have had if she’d stay with the Vikings. The junior noted that she “didn’t think I had the best season” for the Vikings, but has found a new home at Jackson.
She and her teammates have a chance to play as many as two tournament games on their home court thanks to the OHSAA’s tournament structure, which shifted a few years ago to having higher seeds host sectional semifinals and finals in the interest of improving attendance and support for the contests.
“I think it’s going to be really good for us to maybe be able to play two games at home, get things going in the right direction and build some momentum,” Spencer said.
When asked about the keys to a good postseason run, Spencer quickly pointed to having confidence and believing that even though they went a combined 1-3 against GlenOak and Hoover this season, they can find a way to beat one or both of those teams in the tournament. Wiping the slate clean and starting fresh for the tournament is not as simple as repeating a mantra, but Butch is trying to channel the spirit of the 2014-15 team that had a solid, but not great, regular season before catching fire in the tournament and reaching the regional finals.
“The ups and downs this season go along with season we have two years ago and we’ve been trying to relate to that,” Butch said. “That team two years ago didn’t have the best regular season, but teams get hot at tournament time and I always say that tournament comes down to two things: getting key defensive stops and executing your offense in the half court.”
In the half-court-oriented setting of the tournament, defense, rebounding and physical toughness are valuable. Butch describes Spencer as a player who has “added toughness and grit to the team along with her basketball skills,” playing on the back line of the Polar Bears’ zone defense and playing the power forward position. At 6.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and a team-high 15 blocks on the season, her contributions could be a vital piece of the postseason puzzle for her new team.
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