In Monday’s Class 1A Streamwood Supersectional, the ball went sailing toward the baseline, looking like it was about to go out of bounds off Eastland, Chicago Hope Academy’s ball to inbound.
But then flying through the air came Meredith Janssen, the Eastland senior who was able to get a hand on the ball before it hit out of bounds and bounce it off the leg of an Eagles player.
Eastland’s ball under the basket.
“That’s something that I watched older girls do when I was in junior high and elementary school,” she said. “That’s kind of a hustle play. That’s what I look to do.”
Plays like that have made Janssen a mainstay in the Cougars lineup. While Erin Henze and Lydia Coatney are the ones scoring points in bunches and Karlie Krogman is fighting for rebounds and putbacks inside, Janssen is the one making the type of small plays that don’t show up on a stat sheet but play a big role in helping the team win.
“Mere has done that for us the last couple of years,” Eastland coach Nicole Brinker said. “That’s what she does. She just goes after rebounds, she keeps rebounds alive, she was on the floor I don’t know how many times, and she plays that defense that we need her to play.
“[Monday, Chicago Hope] didn’t really start another post, they just had four guards, and Mere gets those guards a lot of times. “The other night [in the sectional final against Amboy], she started on [Mallory] Powers.
“Mere just does whatever it takes for the team to win,” Brinker continued, “and that’s such a key thing to have on a team where you have so many weapons. She could easily be a weapon on any other team, and she embraces the role of being that utility player that we need.”
The scoring numbers may not look impressive when she’s putting up seven points in the win over Chicago Hope Academy or six in the win over Amboy, but the important thing for her is that the team is still alive and playing at Redbird Arena for a second year in a row.
“Whatever gets us the win at the end of the day works for me,” she said.
Janssen’s scoring numbers are almost identical heading to state this weekend as they were a year ago. She is averaging 7.8 points per game this year – it was 7.9 after the supersectional in 2019 – and she has attempted 17 more shots as a senior this year than she had at this point last season.
But she has had those games where she kept finding the basket. She scored 10 in a win over AFC, 14 in a win over Alden-Hebron, 12 in the sectional semifinal win over Stockton, 12 in a win over Fenton.
“She really just does the stuff she needs to, whether it’s getting rebounds or getting those offensive putbacks,” Brinker said. “She has a nice little shot from that elbow. She missed some bunnies [Monday], and then all of a sudden she goes out to the elbow and cashes that in.
“She has been a little more offensive-minded, but she’s at the point where you have to realize the other weapons that we have and she doesn’t want to step on the shots of other people.”
Janssen has 164 rebounds, third on the team behind Krogman and Coatney, and a lot of those rebounds turn into points. Her seven points in the Cougars’ 75-38 win Monday over Chicago Hope Academy came off 3-for-8 shooting, scoring in the paint off a Dani Rush assist, in the paint after an offensive rebound, and on a jumper off an assist from Alyssa Miller.
“Especially when Karlie gets in foul trouble, we don’t have a lot of height after that,” she said. “So I have to look to be more of a threat even though I’m kind of a shorter post.”
She sees one big difference this year, coming in her confidence.
“Last year going to state helped a lot,” she said. “As a senior, I know this is my last year so I have to step it up, and that’s helped a lot too.”