Janelle Baal had always been used to being one of the younger players on the court during her basketball career at Dakota Ridge.
That all changed her senior year.
As the lone returning starter off a squad that had reached the Great 8 of the Class 5A state tournament, Baal was being looked upon by her coaches and teammates to guide the Eagles.
The 5-foot-3 Baal gladly hoisted the Eagles on her shoulders, and carried them higher than most expected.
Baal led the Eagles in scoring, coming in at a shade over 12 points a game and was a defensive dynamo at the top of the key, locking down opposing point guards with relentless man-to-man defense.
In a game that ultimately determined part of the 5A Jefferson County League championship, Baal’s star shined brightest on the big stage. She knocked down a school-record six 3-pointers, including three straight in the final minutes, to lift the Eagles to a 49-46 victory over rival Columbine. The victory earned Dakota Ridge its sixth straight league title.
“That game ranks at the top of the list,” Baal said. “I didn’t want to be a part of the team to wreck the tradition we’d built at Dakota. I never took it out of my mind that we wouldn’t win league, even though a lot of people didn’t think we could do it.”
For her accomplishments, those seen in box scores and those not, Baal was chosen as the Evergreen Newspapers’ girls Player of the Year.
“Janelle really took us under her wing,” said sophomore forward, Brooke Orcutt, who was selected to the second team. “She did a great job of communicating things in the huddle. Her experience really was big for us because a lot of us hadn’t played varsity before.
“Whenever we needed a big basket, we knew we had to look to get her the ball.”
Playing the role of scorer was new for Baal, who while running the point for the Eagles, was more of a distributor of the basketball and a defensive specialist the past few seasons.
“I was used to deferring to the older players on the team,” Baal said. “I’d take a shot here-and-there if I was open. Coming into this season, I knew I had to look to create my own shot and knew we needed 3-point shooting, so I worked on that, too.”
Suffice to say, her hard work paid off.
Baal, who made just eight 3-pointers her junior year, finished her senior campaign with 50, which is a new school record. She also tied the school’s single-game (six) and career 3-point percentage (36%) marks.
“Every time she was open, she’d make a shot it seemed like,” Orcutt said. “She was our sole 3-point shooter and she had a great season for us.”
Baal is now contemplating which college she’ll attend in the fall. One thing is certain, though: wherever she goes, she’ll be playing basketball and she’ll be back in a familiar role as one of the youngest players on the court.