NORCROSS — That Janna Schlageter had the potential to become one of the top contributors for Norcross’ volleyball program has never been a question for head coach Jeff Cerneka.
His vision has proven to be spot on given her production on the court as the 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter continues through her fourth season as a varsity starter.
However, what has Cerneka most impressed about Schlageter goes beyond even her exploits on the court, which have made her not only a major factor in the Blue Devils’ 28-5 record thus far, but also one of Gwinnett County’s top players.
“Just the way her personality has developed,” Cerneka said when asked about what he is most proud of about Schlageter. “She’s just a unique person. She’s been through so much with the program. When she started as a freshman, she was on varsity and started as a freshman. She was part of a really good team … that made it to the Elite Eight. Then we struggled.
“Her sophomore year, I think we were under .500, and so she had to go through that. Then we were rebuilding last year. We had a really young team last year, and she took on a different role. She took on a lot more of a leadership role. She started to come out of her shell last year. This year, she’s just embraced that responsibility of being a leader and putting the team on her back. As a coaching staff, … we’re looking for kids like that. A lot of kids shy away from that responsibility. Janna faces it head on.”
Indeed, Schlageter has come a long way since entering the Norcross program as a shy freshman three years ago, and so have her teammates.
Perhaps the biggest stride both made came just a year ago, when the Blue Devils were coming off a rare losing season in 2016 and were looking for a leader, a call Schlageter answered steadily as the 2017 season progressed.
She finished with a team-best 404 kills, along with 261 digs and 46 service aces to help Norcross back to its customary spot atop its region standings, and earn herself first-team All-County honors from the Daily Post.
But it was Schlageter’s emergence as a team leader that was an even bigger step, and she says the genesis for that emergence came even before last season began as she and a relatively new group of teammates began to build chemistry and find their own identity both individually and together.
“I think it was the (offseason) between sophomore year and junior year,” Schlageter said. “The team chemistry got phenomenally better. We had a better team, (and) people were going to get along and fight together. I think that just made it a lot easier.”
True, simple growth and sharing time together are big factors that has helped Schlageter develop into a natural leader on and off the court.
However, there is at least one other contributing factors that Cerneka points to.
“Keep in mind, she’s also coached a lot of these girls,” Cerneka said. “I know that sounds weird, but she works with our feeder programs. She’s worked with them since she’s been here. She does down the street to Pinckneyville (Middle School), and she’s been doing that since her freshman year (at Norcross). Now all these girls she’s worked with are her teammates, so they’ve got a different level of respect for her.”
Schlageter agrees that the work she put in with the Blue Devils’ middle school program has helped her get to know her younger teammates and develop a bond with them.
But as much as it has helped her present in volleyball, she is also convinced it will benefit her future in the sport, as well.
“I just wanted to help,” Schlageter said. “I asked if I could volunteer at the middle school looking for something to spend my time on because in my future, I definitely see volleyball (as a part of it) as long as I can. After I (am done playing), I want to coach. I want to be (involved) in the sport as long as I can.
“I definitely think being involved with other team at other (levels) of the game, you get to hear a lot more things from coaches that help you focus on the game — some reminders to help you, when you’re in a game, you need to slow you down.”
The things she’s learned both from a coaching and playing perspective has helped her on-court development during her senior season, as she leads the Blue Devils in both kills (306) and digs (123) and tied for the lead in serve receivers (72), along with 28 aces and 15 blocks.
It is enough to have garnered her attention from several different Division I college programs, including South Carolina and South Florida.
And as much as Schlageter has grown as a player and a person, Cerneka has no doubt she will be as successful on the next level of volleyball as she’s been on her current one.
“She lets her personality shine,” Cerneka said. “She’s her complete self on the floor right now, and we’re benefitting from it. We’re having an outstanding year, and it’s because she wants to win. Every match, every game, every drill (in practice), she wants to win.”