Orangeville to Olympics? Illinois all-state softball player also an elite hockey talent

Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star
Orangeville's Tessa Janecke has attended NAHA (North American Hockey Academy) for four years and has now made the Team USA 18-under world team.

Tessa Janecke started playing hockey at age 3. But she never just played hockey. She worked at it.

“My dad always had stuff set up in the summer for us to get better,” she said. “Rollerblading every day. Stick handling. Shooting. Speed ladders. Jump boxes. He had a whole program for us to go through every day.

“The road to our house is up on a hill. Dad would make us do sprints up the hill every day. People would drive by our house and see us rollerblading up the hill. They would think we were crazy.”

Not crazy. Training to be a champion.

Maybe an Olympic champion.

Janecke is the star senior shortstop on Orangeville’s softball team. The all-stater hit .597 with nine home runs last year for a team that finished third in the state in Class 1A.

“But she’s an even better hockey player,” Orangeville coach Lon Scheuerell said.

Much better.

Good enough to make the Team USA 18-under women’s hockey team that will play in the World Championships from June 6-13 in Madison, Wisconsin. Maybe good enough to make the USA Olympic team in 2026.

That’s the plan anyway.

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A plan that has taken her 1,000 miles away to school the last four years, first in Stowe, Vermont, and now near Boston. Janecke takes online classes at Orangeville, but from early October until mid-March she lives at the North American Hockey Academy, which moved three years ago from Vermont to Wellesley, Massachusetts, near Boston.

“It’s almost like she is a college kid. And has been for four years,” said Tom Janecke, her grandfather and the patriarch of this large, three-generation hockey family. “There is a question of whether a kid can handle that, but the Northeast is the center of the world in girls hockey.”

“It takes a lot of adjustment at first,” Tessa said. “You have to figure out your schedule and know when you need to get your homework done. Some girls dis-enroll from their schools. I stayed at Orangeville and do it remotely.”

Orangeville junior Tessa Janecke is congratulated by head coach Lon Scheuerell as she rounds third after a home run during the Broncos' 11-4 win over ROWVA-Williamnsfield in the Class 1A Sterling Super-Sectional on Monday, June 14, 2021.

A softball star

Staying at Orangeville means playing softball. The second-smallest public school in the Rockford area (107 students) is easily better in softball than in any other sport, stringing together 17 consecutive seasons of 20 or more wins.

“Softball puts us on the map,” Tessa said. “It says that we are not always the best in other sports, but this we dominate in and you should watch out for us.”

Softball, clearly, is No. 1 in Orangeville.

“That was one of the reasons she chose that school, is because of softball,” said her dad, former long-time Orangeville baseball coach Andrew Janecke, who grew up 20 miles away in Warren and is known by his family as “Roon” or “Rooney,” after former TV personality Andy Rooney. “I am really good friends with Lon. We played baseball together in college. We played baseball together out of college. I was the best man at his wedding. I knew what kind of man and coach he was.”

And he knew what kind of player Tessa was.

“She played baseball on a boys travel team until she was 13,” her dad said.

A hockey family

Still, softball can never climb higher than No. 2 in the Janecke clan. Hockey has been No. 1 since Tom Janecke played for a club team in college at Loyola and his younger brothers Marty and Pete played in high school at Chicago Marist.

“My dad was a superstar in the rink,” Rooney said.

Now Tom has 11 hockey-playing grandchildren, including another couple of budding stars in Montana.

“It’s the family tradition,” Tom said. “It’s a fun game to watch because you never slow down. You jump in and around the boards and there are no timeouts. And it’s a good game for the Janeckes because we are all short and on the huskier side. The game is made for our body types.”

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Tom's five kids, growing up in Warren where there is no high school hockey, never played organized hockey until they were out of high school. But they did play hockey.

“We used to flood a field in the Warren Park District to get them on skates,” Tom said.

“We played pond hockey growing up with all of our buddies,” Rooney said, “but we didn’t know a lot about the game. We just liked going out and playing.”

It is a much more serious endeavor for the third generation of Janeckes, who work at hockey as much as they play it.

“Roon is very intense at everything he coaches,” his dad, Tom, said. “I think that’s why his kids have gotten so good.”

“Even during softball,” Tessa said, “I am usually still trying to train for hockey. I always grew up having summer hockey and softball tournaments at the same time at some point.

“It’s not always easy to find ice in Illinois. We drove over to Monroe (Wisconsin) and played for 11 years. We are always traveling places trying to find ice time.”

Orangeville's Tessa Janecke has been playing hockey since she was 3 years old.

Putting in the work

Tessa played in Monroe with her older brother. Cade, a freshman who now plays for the club team at Illinois State, was the first Janecke to follow in his grandfather’s skates in earnest, starting out on a youth team in Monroe.

"We were building a house, living with the kids in an apartment,” Rooney said. “There was nothing for them to do after school. I was always interested in hockey, so I went up to Monroe and signed Cade up. The same deal with her the next year; I got her on the ice also.”

And he made sure Tessa was ready to skate — and skate well — before she ever picked up a hockey stick.

He did that by having her rollerblade up the hill by their house before she joined her first hockey team at age 3.

“It was really hard for my son his first year to stand up on his own after he fell down on the ice,” Rooney said. “So I put him on rollerblades. I put Tessa on roller blades too. When she started in the fall, she was able to stand up immediately and not go through all that frustration.”

That was just the tip of the iceberg of Andrew Janecke’s hockey training regimen for his kids, including his youngest, 13-year-old Beau.

“I was a little overboard, but they have these patches — if you get three goals in a game, you get a hat-trick patch,” Rooney said. “Cade didn’t get a patch his first year and was disappointed. I told him he had to start getting better. They just don’t hand those things out.

“That’s when we started training. All of my kids have done that. You do this for an hour every day, you’ve got eight more hours to play. You can give one hour of work. It’s not like I am making you weed or mow the lawn. And it made them better at baseball, too. And Tessa played volleyball. It made them better at everything.”

Playing with the boys

Tessa is a softball star who didn’t play softball when she was young. She played baseball. That’s because she played with the boys. And not just any boys. Older boys. The best older boys.

Cade was good enough to play on travel teams in both hockey and baseball. Tessa played on those same teams at the same time.

“That made it convenient for my wife and I,” Rooney said. “We told her, ‘You are going to play on the same hockey team, the same baseball team.’ And she could always compete with them. And not just compete; she was one of the best players. And she was a girl who was 1 ½ years younger than everyone.”

Playing with the boys in hockey is a different game. Girls hockey does not allow checking. Girls can stare at the puck more with impunity. If you do that against the boys, you can find yourself slammed into the boards.

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Watching out for that helped Tessa learn to see the entire game playing out in front of her.

“Girls who play boys all the way up learn to see the ice better and keep their heads up because of the checking,” she said. “That helps a lot when you go back and play with the girls.”

Orangeville's Tessa Janecke will play for Team USA in the 16-under world championships in Madison in June

Tessa was so good against the boys that her parents felt compelled to send her to an elite hockey academy.

“I wouldn’t just send a kid away because I think she’s pretty good," Rooney said. "I was driven by the communication we received that we should put her where she can develop with other girls like her who have the same aspirations as her.

“When you watched her play boys hockey, she played with and against really good boys, boys who played AAA hockey, and they were checking and she was a year younger and she was the best player on that team. When she still sticks out on the ice, that sets something off in your mind that we should look into this.”

Tessa quickly proved it was the right decision. She was an immediate star when she enrolled at NAHA. She had 24 goals and 27 assists in 40 games as a freshman there. Her three-year total heading into this season is 107 goals and 91 assists in 141 games.

That got her a scholarship to Penn State.

It also got her an invitation to the 2019 USA Hockey Girls U15 Player Development Camp.

Last year, she was invited to the 2021 USA Hockey Women’s National Festival. From there, she earned an invite to the USA U18 Select Player Development Camp. From there, she was picked to play for Team USA in the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championships in Linkoping and Mjolby, Sweden.

But that was called off in early January for COVID reasons. It has now been rescheduled for June 6-13 in nearby Madison.

“I was crushed at first; we thought there was going to be no tournament,” Tessa said. “It would be cool to travel there and play, but as long as they are having the tournament, I am happy.”

The 18U world championships in a few weeks. Then, maybe, the Olympics in four years.

“It’s weird,” her grandpa said. “From the very beginning, this kid said that. ‘I want to play in the Olympics.’ Yeah, yeah. You kind of blow them off. But as she keeps advancing in her game, it has become a possibility.”

Matt Trowbridge is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at mtrowbridge@rrstar.com and follow him on Twitter at @MattTrowbridge. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com.