By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Lady Knight basketball was trailing Hall High School by three points with about 16 seconds left to go, so Coach Mike Forgione called a timeout to draw up a play.
Forgione gathered his team and walked them through a play designed to give Janette Wadolowski a chance to tie the contest. When play resumed, the Lady Knights looked like a well-choreographed ballet.
Two players criss-crossed to form a double screen. Wadolowski stepped into the daylight, and a teammate found her in stride. Forgione held his breath as his sharpshooter took her mark as a blocker stepped into position. Forgione slumped. The game was lost.
Or was it?
“Most superstars and top players would just force the shot,” said Forgione. “But she noticed her teammate on the other side of the court– and she was open.”
Wadolowski skipped a pass across the court, and another pass skipped it back to the perimeter where a teammate knotted the score. A Hall turnover gave the Knights the ball at the buzzer, and a freshman’s first career field goal secured the Southington win.
Forgione still scratches his head when he thinks about Wadolowski’s unselfish play. “Here’s one of the best players in the state, but she’s always thinking about the game and what the best opportunity for us was,” he said. “After the game, Janette said that she wasn’t open and had to have confidence in her teammates.”
How does an all-state shooter think unselfishly with the game on the line? For Wadolowski, it’s just business as usual. For years, she’s been the central challenge for any Southington opponent. Every time she touched the ball, it seemed that defenses collapsed upon her. She’d face double-teams at the perimeter, triple-teams in the paint, and 10 hands in her face every time she took a shot.
Even under such scrutiny, she managed to do it all. Of course, she led the team in points, but it’s the other things that her coach will remember the most. Last winter, Wadolowski led the Knights in almost every statistical category from free throws (98-for-149), two-point field goals (178-for-353), three-point field goals, (30-for-102), and total field goals (208-for-455) to assists (52), rebounds (251), and steals (65). She was also third in blocks (16).
Facing double and triple-teams at every turn, she managed to average a double-double with 23.7 points per game and 10.9 rebounds.
A three-time all-conference selection, Wadolowski earned her first all-state honor this past season in her first year as team captain. She was invited to play in the 57th JCC School Boy/Girl Classic where she led Connecticut East with 22 points as the recipient of the Ken Liberman Hustle Award.
“The points never really mattered,” said Forgione. “She wasn’t looking to score. She was looking to play great team basketball by finding the open player, running the floor, and playing defense. Obviously, with her natural and God-given ability, the points came.”
And, boy, did those points come even though sometimes it seemed like even the universe was conspiring to stop her.
After missing her entire freshman season due to an ACL injury, Wadolowski still managed to score 446 points as a sophomore. She suffered a broken wrist in the second game of her junior year, was sidelined for nine games, but still finished the season with 239 points.
Then, as a senior, she was nearly perfect. Defensive schemes were built around her, but she still managed to score 544 points. (Southington’s second scorer managed just 160 points.) Despite two injury-shortened seasons, Wadolowski became just the sixth Lady Knight to surpass 1,000 points.
With 1,229 career points, Wadolowski finishes her career as the second highest scoring Lady Knights. Only former blue chipper Val DePaolo (1,333) scored more points.
“Here’s a girl that would have had 1,800 points in her career if she had stayed healthy,” said Forgione. “That record would have been so out of reach that no one would ever come near it. Think about what she’s done in two seasons. She scored over 1,000 points, really, in two seasons.”
Even on those rare days when she struggled, she still found a way to dominate the scorebook. Forgione remembers the game where Wadolowski finally scored her 1,000th point. The sharpshooter got off to a slow start. She missed her first few jump shots and committed a few rare missed layups under the pressure of the crowd.
She entered the game needing 19 points to reach 1,000. She struggled throughout the first half, but came out shooting in the second half. Southington opened a 16-point advantage when Wadolowski’s three-pointer pushed her career totals over 1,000.
When the dust settled, Wadolowski finished with 24 points. And that was on a poor shooting night. Of course, Wadolowski wasn’t going to let down her fans. She never did.
“There was a whole cheering section for her behind us in the stands holding Janette signs with her face on a popsicle stick,” said Forgione. “You could tell that she’s a very popular girl off the court. They knew that she was going to get her 1,000th point that night, and they showed up to support her.”
In fact, Forgione said that Wadolowski was so much more than just a scorer, and it’s her versatility and teamwork that the coach will remember the most. She would do whatever it took to help her team succeed.
During most of her senior season, Wadolowski was the starting point guard, but she also shifted to forward, center, and shooting guard when the Knights faced certain defensive schemes. The key was getting the ball into Wadolowski’s hands.
“We would get her the ball even more because we knew that if we did what we needed to do, that would open up opportunities for other girls,” said Forgione. “I would tell the girls that I may never coach a player like her again, and they may never play with a player like her again.”
Wadolowski’s athleticism wasn’t limited to the hard court, either.
During her rehab from an ACL injury in her sophomore year, she went out for the softball team and was one of the top players. She played just one season, but she played in all 22 games and led the team in hits (25) with a batting average of .391. Southington rallied to the Class LL semifinals, and Wadolowski finished second on the team in RBI (21) and tied for fifth in runs scored (17).
“She’s really an athlete that is on another level,” said Southington coach Davina Hernandez. “She’s one of those kids that you get once every 25 years. She never missed a beat.”
It was also no surprise that—despite limited play—Wadolowski found a way to contribute during a 20-0 victory over New Britain last fall in the annual powder puff football game. Following Southington’s first score of the game, Wadolowski burned through New Britain’s special teams unit with a 45 yard punt return into the red zone. Southington began the possession at the Hurricane 10-yard line.
This doesn’t surprise her spring coach, Connor Green. Wadolowski is one of those rare athletes that seems to be able to excel at whatever challenge she faces. She could have rested on her laurels after her senior season in basketball, but Wadolowski showed up at tryouts for track.
It didn’t take long for her to become one of the top athletes in the state…in a technical event that takes years to perfect.
“Janette is a true all-around athlete. She is very coachable and catches on to concepts very quickly,” said Green. “She was usually the first one out on the field with the javelin ready to practice.”
She qualified for the state meet right out of the gate and by the end of the first month of competition, Wadolowski was the top javelin thrower on the team. Her winning performance at the Panther Invitational at Plainfield High School in late April (121’2”) came within 3 feet, 1 inch of the school record.
“Her natural ability to compete and her strength were huge factors in her ability to lead the state,” said Green. “But honestly, she just hates not doing well, and that has been her greatest asset.”
By the time the postseason rolled around, Wadolowski was the one to beat. She won easily at the conference meet. She came close to her personal best (117’8”) when she won the Class LL title in her first appearance. She was one of five Lady Knights to advance to the state open.
At the state open, Wadolowski’s fourth place medal helped push Southington’s track team to the top of the standings. The Lady Knights scored their first state open team championship, and the rookie javelin thrower was one of three Lady Knights to advance to the New England meet.
“She’s been a great part of our team,” said Green. “She’s just used to this high-level stress and competition that comes from basketball and when she played softball. Now, the only stress that was on her was the pressure that she wanted to do well.”
Once again, coaches were impressed by her commitment to teammates and her quiet, unassuming leadership. Of course, that’s just as true in the classroom where Wadolowski served her classmates as president of the National Honor Society at Southington High School.
In fact, Wadolowski is a perfect example of a true student-athlete. She was heavily recruited by a number of Division I NCAA programs, and was even one of the Army’s top basketball recruits at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
But she rejected all those offers to pursue basketball at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. where she plans to study medicine in hopes of someday becoming doctor. School comes first.
“I really commend her for making that decision because it really wasn’t easy to turn down West Point to play at Tufts,” said Forgione. “She’ll be one of the top players in the conference and Division III immediately, as soon as she gets up there on campus.”
Southington fans would expect nothing less.
For her outstanding athletic achievements, versatility, and leadership, Janette Wadolowski is The Observer’s 2018 Female Athlete of the Year.