When Rachel Janson’s family moved from Fort Mitchell, Ky., (near Cincinnati) between her sophomore and junior years, Janson said it was volleyball that made a tough transition easier.
“It was so hard to move from the only place I had really ever known and where I had grown up when I was a sophomore in high school (at Notre Dame Academy),” said Janson, whose mom, Julie, had gotten a job in Charlotte. “But volleyball definitely helped make the transition a lot smoother for me. Before I even got to Charlotte Country Day, (volleyball) Coach (Brian) Rosen and a lot of the girls had already gotten in touch with me and told me how excited they were to have me coming. That really made me feel a lot more at home.”
Janson also made herself at home on the court for the Buccaneers, joining a team that had just lost a state championship match to archrival Charlotte Latin 3-2 after leading 2-0. Since then, the senior has helped the Bucs win two straight state championships, including the 2014 title 3-1 over Covenant Day Oct. 25.
In 2013, Country Day (34-6 last year) beat Covenant Day 3-1 to win its first NCISAA 3A state title since 1992.
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Janson, who had a then single-season school-record 1,116 assists, played a huge role on a team that lost four-year starting setter Megan Lewis the year before. She also had a season-high 54 assists in the state semifinal win over North Raleigh Christian and 52 assists in the final against Covenant Day.
“Rachel really came in at the perfect time and filled the perfect role for us,” Rosen said.
Janson said it meant a lot to know she made a difference for her new team.
“Knowing what this team had been through losing in the state finals to Latin the year before, I wanted to come in and help this team win it all,” Janson said. “It felt really good to know that I was a part of getting that accomplished.”
While Janson, 18, is “the quarterback” of the team, according to Rosen, she has big-time weapons all over the court with fellow seniors Katharine Franz (2013 co-Observer Player of the Year), Hannah Kintzinger, Asya Patterson and Taylor Portland.
The Bucs’ senior quintet led this year’s team to another NCISAA 3A state championship, beating Covenant Day 3-1 again. The team also had a program-best 44-1 record.
Country Day, whose only loss came to Hillcrest (S.C.) High, won 112 sets this season and only lost five. The Bucs are also No. 11 in the latest MaxPreps.com national poll.
“I was very proud that this team never took their foot off the gas all season,” said Rosen, noting the team didn’t lose a first set all year. “I feel like we won a lot of matches in warmups. Just watching our girls hit the ball can be intimidating.”
The senior class wasn’t going to let its team lose in the state final. All five girls played one of the best matches of the season, with Janson dishing out a season-best 52 assists and 17 digs, Franz recording 19 kills and 11 digs, Kintzinger contributing 13 kills and 18 digs, Patterson smashing 13 kills with 15 digs and Portland tallying 17 digs and nine kills.
The same five seniors combined for 4,493 kills, 4,041 digs, 2,500 assists, 816 aces and 540 blocks in their Country Day careers.
While the big hitters naturally get a lot of the attention, Rosen says Janson, who broke her own single-season record with 1,277 assists this season, deserves just as much of the credit.
“Rachel has really been an unsung hero for this team the last two seasons,” Rosen said. “Some people would say that a setter is only good because of those hitters. But Rachel has the special ability to get the ball to all our weapons and keep everyone happy at the same time.”
Janson’s personality lends itself to the setter position.
“I’ve always loved the role of helping lead a team as a setter and would like to think I thrive in that position,” Janson said. “I don’t worry about who gets the attention, I like to assist in everyone’s success. I think our whole team is that way and that’s what has made us so good.”
Franz, a Davidson commit, is the only senior committed to a school so far. Janson is still deciding on whether to pursue her athletic career in college.
No matter what she decides, Janson says Charlotte Country Day volleyball will always have a special place in her heart.
“These girls have become like my sisters and we wouldn’t have wanted this to end any other way,” Janson said. “Everyone on this team was so passionate about volleyball. We all wanted to win it again so badly. The whole season was a lot of fun. We couldn’t have asked for more.”