JACKSON CENTER — Former players suggest coach Kim Metz has mellowed since they played for her at Jackson Center. Metz acknowledges that might be true, especially during last season. But as some things change at Jackson Center, one seems almost destined to stay the same.
Jackson Center won the Shelby County Athletic League title (sharing the title with Russia) and captured its 12th straight Division IV district championship.
The Tigers graduated four seniors — including the league’s player of the year in Raquel Kessler — but return another solid pair in Izzy Hickey (171 kills, 33 blocks, 49 digs) and Megan Argabright (40 kills, 16 digs).
“Megan and Izzy have been through this. The things they have seen and the challenges they have stuck through, they have waited for this to be their season,” Metz said. “They are taking on the biggest part of the responsibility. … Both of them have seen their roles change almost every tournament this summer. That’s the ability to overcome challenges and continue to move forward. That’s the kind of senior that really helps the team grow. Those are the kinds of kids I have.”
Juniors Ashley Mullenhour (272 assists, 98 digs), Deja Wells (64 kills, 32 blocks), Katie Clark (51 kills), Kennedy Jackson, Hope Booser and Ragen Davidson step into larger roles this season.
Sophomores Sarah Clark (101 kills, 42 aces, 41 digs), Ava Winner (59 digs), Shia Akers, Elana Platfoot and Morgan Kipker add depth.
For her part Metz doesn’t stress district titles. When told the streak was currently at 12 straight she admitted she doesn’t keep track. Championships are nice, Metz agrees, but it’s not the reason she continues to coach after battling breast cancer last season.
“For me to make (titles) about me, I’m never going to do that,” Metz said. “If the kids continue to be successful and do the things we ask of them this year at Jackson, I’m just happy for them. … Wins and losses are going to come and go. It’s the relationships. That’s what makes it more memorable.
“They’re the ones out playing the game. Not me. They’re the ones that have to be able to process and problem solve on the fly. You get like three seconds to make the decision. Right or wrong you have to get over it.”
Jackson Center (24-4 overall, 11-1 SCAL) was on the right side the majority of time last season, reaching the D-IV regional title game before falling to New Bremen in three hard-fought games.
Nagging injuries have hampered the Tigers during the preseason. But the Tigers are once again mentioned as the frontrunners for the SCAL title along with Anna, Fairlawn, Fort Loramie and Russia.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” Metz said. “This is going to be a fun year for me and I tell my kids during practice the team on the other side does not care. They want to beat you. You have to have the mental toughness and mindset — whether you are having a good day or a bad day.”
Metz knows something about that. She said she still gets tired and continues to gain strength, but her cancer diagnosis puts the sport — and life — in a different perspective. That’s the message she wants her players to grasp, too … even more than a 13th straight district title.
“You value every day and every moment. You try to be the best version of yourself every time you’re out there,” Metz said.
“You always say you want good kids. The way life has treated some of us and the way that the world is, you want to try and give these kids a good, stinkin’ backbone so when they get out in the world they’re going to be able to soar. Even if they get knocked down a few times you want them to be people that others can depend on. I think that’s a great statement for where our kids are right now. I really like their camaraderie. They’re good people who are going to make great citizens.”