Playing time was sparse last season for Rachel Janis as a junior. The Mattituck High School girls basketball team was rich in experience, with six seniors, including all five starters, so it wasn’t easy getting onto the court.
“I did not get much playing time at all,” she said. “It was a little hard. Usually I would get like two to three minutes in games where we up by maybe like 40 points.”
Chalk this one up in the What a Difference a Year Makes Department.
Not only has Janis been playing a lot this season, but she is a starter. Although she has been a largely unheralded player, playing under the radar, the senior guard has started all 22 games for Mattituck. Oh, and as for that being out of the spotlight thing, it sounds as if Janis couldn’t care less.
“It doesn’t matter at all to me, honestly,” she said. “Just the fact that we’re winning and we’re doing so well is so exciting.”
The excitement continues for Suffolk County Class B champion Mattituck (17-5), which will play Carle Place (15-4) for a fourth consecutive year in the Long Island final Wednesday at Farmingdale State College. Last year the Frogs spoiled Mattituck’s bid for a three-peat as a Long Island champion by holding the Tuckers to a season-low point total in Carle Place’s 45-26 win.
“They have a lot of year-round players, a lot of [Amateur Athletic Union] players, from what I’m gathering, so it’s going to be a tough matchup for us, but the girls are working hard,” Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood said. “We’re just going to give it the best we can.”
By the time the ball is tossed for the opening tip-off, it will have been 14 days since Mattituck’s previous game, a 46-41 loss to Pierson/Bridgehampton/Shelter Island in the Suffolk Class BCD game. But that time off looks to work to Mattituck’s advantage. It gives the banged up Tuckers time to heal wounds and rest aches and pains. Van Dood said Mackenzie Hoeg (ankle), Sarah Santacroce (both ankles), Dominique Crews (knee), Emily Nicholson (ankle) and Alexis Burns (knee) have all been dealing with ailments.
“That happens,” Van Dood said. “By the time we play that game, we’re almost four months into the season. That’s a lot of running up and down on courts.”
Mattituck’s ability to absorb the graduation losses it took and return to the Long Island final may have taken some by surprise.
“Last year there were so many amazing players,” Janis said. “We still have amazing players. It’s just that people are stepping up and it’s a different group of girls.”
The 5-7 Janis has been an important cog for Mattituck as part of a starting five with Hoeg, Julie Seifert, Ashley Perkins and Jaden Thompson.
“She knows her roles on defense,” Van Dood said. “She’s good in the press. She’s tall. She’s good on the boards when she tries to get down low … She does a lot of the little things that do not necessarily show up in the box scores.”
If anyone knows Janis well, it’s her close friend and fellow senior Seifert. The two have known each other since they were in preschool together. They sat next to each other on the school bus when they were in kindergarten. “She’s one of my best friends since forever,” Seifert said. “I love being around her. She’s a lot of fun.”
In terms of basketball, Seifert said: “Maybe on the scouting reports she may not jump out at everyone, but then you get in the game, she flies under the radar and we use that to our advantage. And she’s so helpful, just bringing the energy up.
“She’s good at her outside, 15-foot jumper, and when she makes those, all of a sudden the momentum swings back into our favor, so I think it’s a lot of the little things that she does that really keep us going.”
This season, her second on the team, has brought tremendous change for Janis, who said she was excited at the prospect of more court time. She said, “I would say I definitely have a defensive role and then on offense I’m more of a passer and I kind of just have to get to a good area where if someone’s in trouble, they can kick it out to me and I can just take a jump shot.”
Janis, one of the team’s captains, has also been getting the job done in the classroom. She recently won an academic All-County award for basketball, as did Seifert. “The criteria is very tough, a 95 average, the top 10 percentile in the class and 1200 on the SATs,” said Van Dood.
Van Dood has described Janis as being “even-keeled” and upbeat. “She shows up here early every day and she works hard,” he said. He added, “As far as being a great kid, she would be All-State first team.”
Janis, a three-sport athlete (volleyball in the fall and lacrosse in the spring), will play lacrosse next year for SUNY/Cortland. She can be seen as the perfect example of someone who seized the opportunity when her time came.
“Everyone has their moment,” she said. “You just have to wait for your day.”
Photo caption: Rachel Janis has gone from being a little-used reserve player last season to a full-time starter this season for Mattituck. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)