[This is my column in the Aug. 13 issue of The Commercial Review.]
The elephant is no longer in the room.
Now that Leo High School has moved to the Northeast Eight Conference, let’s talk about Allen County Athletic Conference.
It was supposed to be a cakewalk for Jay County, the biggest school in the conference.
At least, that’s what many people were saying leading up to Jay County’s inaugural season in the ACAC.
The Patriots compete in 20 sports, and all but one — gymnastics — have a conference affiliation.
But after a full year of competing in the ACAC, only two Patriot teams are defending conference championships.
And they both came from the same sports season.
The girls basketball team was 5-0 against ACAC opponents during the regular season leading up to the conference tournament. Though playing poorly at the time, the Patriots defeated Southern Wells and Bluffton in the quarterfinal and semifinal games. Playing Leo for the second time, Jay County won the school’s first ACAC championship with a three-point victory Jan. 17 in Berne.
A week later, the Jay County girls swim team set school and JCHS pool records on its way to the first ACAC championship — prior to last season, the conference did not have a championship for swimming.
It was a precursor to the swimmers winning the program’s first sectional title.
But I digress.
Out of a possible 19 opportunities to win an ACAC championship, only two were able to come through. Not exactly a dominating performance despite being the largest school.
According to the IHSAA, Jay County’s enrollment for the 2014-15 season was 1,113. Leo had nearly 200 fewer students with a total of 932.
Now that Leo has left the ACAC, there is reason to believe the Patriots’ number of championships may be on the rise.
And it begins with the fall sports season.
Jay County’s girls soccer team finished 3-1 in league play last year, having beaten Heritage, Woodlan and South Adams. Its only loss was to Leo. With the scoring threat that Gabbie Mann is — she totaled 30 goals as a junior after netting seven as a sophomore — the Patriot girls team is, in my mind, the favorite to win the conference this season.
The volleyball team lost eight matches last year, the only time during coach Fred Medler’s 20 years leading the team that it has had single-digit losses. Two of those were to Leo, and one was to Heritage in the regular season (although Jay County defeated the other Patriots during the Heritage Invitational).
Heritage may give Jay County a run again this season, and the South Adams Starfires are on the rise too. Adams Central, which Jay County swept in three games in 2014, is always a tough squad. It’s safe to say it is possibly a three-team race for the ACAC volleyball crown, but Jay County is definitely in the mix.
It’s hard to see anyone knocking off the girls basketball and swim teams again. While the hoopsters did lose a few key players, a solid core of youngsters should contribute almost immediately, regardless of who is tabbed as the new coach.
As for the swim team, it only lost three seniors from its dominating 2014 squad, giving way for some of those youngsters (more than half of the roster was freshman and sophomores) to make a splash this season.
I can’t possibly touch base on all 19 Jay County teams in this one column, but just know that simply because a school or a team is bigger than the other doesn’t automatically guarantee a victory.
For example, the 1999 St. Charles (Michigan) Bulldogs went 14-0 — the first undefeated season in Michigan high school football history — with only 19 players.
I wrote a column this time last year about the JCHS football team’s first year in the conference and what some of the players were expecting.
Nick Clemens, then a senior, said something then that still rings true today regarding the size of schools within the ACAC.
“Size shouldn’t matter,” he said. “If you work hard and you’re a small school, you should still be pretty good. For us we have to work just as hard as them.
“There is no difference in people. As long as you work hard you’ll be good.”