Business As Usual: Janes Relishes Her Final Seasons
Amanda Janes led Simon Fraser in both home runs and runs batted in during both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Amanda Janes led Simon Fraser in both home runs and runs batted in during both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021
by Blake Timm, GNAC Assistant Commissioner For Communications

BURNABY, B.C. – Softball has been part of Amanda Janes’ life for 15 years.

As she enters what should be her final season behind the plate for Simon Fraser University, Janes is faced with the possibility that there may not be a next year. There may not even be a this year.

A fifth-year senior from Brampton, Ontario, Janes and the rest of her Simon Fraser teammates learned two weeks ago that the team would be unable to compete in the 2021 GNAC season due to the continued closure of the U.S./Canadian border due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The disappointment is real but expected with the border having been closed for a year. On the field, though, the team is moving forward as if the season is still on schedule.

“For the most part we are still training as normal,” Janes said. “We’re seeing a lot of live hitting in practice off of our pitchers and Coach Tina (Andreana). We’re just trying to get better every day. And even though it’s going to be another before we get back to GNAC play, we still want to use every day to get better.”

While the regular rhythm of practices help keep Janes engrained in the game, there are decisions to be made. The health sciences major decided to come back for a fifth season after the pandemic wiped out what had promise to be a breakout season for SFU in 2020. The team was 13-5 overall and 7-1 in GNAC games when the sports world ground to a halt.

With the 2021 season shelved, Janes is deciding whether or not to stay for an unprecedented sixth season or move on to graduate school to pursue a doctorate in dentistry. There are advantages to both staying and going, making the choice harder.

“I am in the process of graduate school interviews,” Janes said. “If I do get accepted, it doesn’t look like I will be back for a sixth year. But if I don’t get accepted, there is a possibility of coming back. I would love to come back and play with my teammates and coaching staff again and represent SFU for another year.”

Whatever path she chooses, Janes will leave having played a critical role in the most exciting, and unusual, periods in team history.

Janes hadn’t heard of Simon Fraser before coming across the country on a tour with the Brampton Blazers club softball program.

Two of her teammates on the Blazers, Samantha Ruffett and Jessica Tate, had committed to the school and the trip provided a chance for the duo, and their teammates, to experience the campus high atop Burnaby Mountain.

Before long, Janes’ ability had attracted the attention of former SFU head coach Mike Renney. The school seemed to be the right fit and she made the move from Brampton, a suburb of Toronto, to the suburb of Vancouver.

“After talking with Coach Renney, and with the academics at SFU and the reputation of the university, I felt it was a great fit,” Janes said. “And with Coach Renney being an Olympic coach and with SFU being the only NCAA school in Canada, I felt like I would be representing Canada in a way.”

Janes joined a Simon Fraser squad that was not expected to do much. After winning just 12 games in 2017, SFU was picked a distant last in the 2018 Preseason Coaches Poll. In her freshman season, Janes played in 22 games during a year that the team put the whole conference on notice.

Making the GNAC Championships for the first time since 2013, SFU opened the tournament by defeating perennial GNAC power Central Washington 9-0 in five innings. Simon Fraser then powered through a 6-3 win over Western Oregon to advance to the championship, losing 1-0 to Northwest Nazarene. The only run of the game was a first-inning leadoff home run in what ended up being Renney’s last game after 25 years coaching SFU.

“Having been there is definitely motivation for getting back there,” Janes said. “That set the tone for us. ‘We are here. We deserve to be here. We are so excited to be here.’ It would have been nice to come away with that win but with one home run, what can you do?”

After going 9-20 in 2019 during Michelle Waters’ one year as head coach, Simon Fraser turned to former Canada national team pitcher Tina Andreana to lead the program. Whether it was the coaching change, the further maturity of the program or that memory of just missing the NCAA postseason in 2018, something dramatically changed in 2020.

The team’s batting average went up 13 points to a respectable .304. The program’s earned run average dropped from 6.16 in 2019 to 4.41 in 2020. After going 6-4 in a pair of non-conference tournaments, the pandemic-shortened season ended with six straight wins against conference opponents.

When it all came to a stop, Simon Fraser led the GNAC by four games. While the season was admittedly stopped early, the team knew something special had been brewing.

“We headed into the new year looking for a fresh start with a new coaching staff. We just put everything out there and just went into each game giving our all,” Janes said. “Obviously it worked out well for us. Heading into that 2020 season, we really wanted to turn things around and put that year behind us and not put focus on the fact that we did poorly.”

Janes was a key contributor both seasons. She started all 39 games at catcher in 2019, finishing with a .282 batting average, six doubles, six home runs and a team-leading 30 RBI. Janes started all 18 games of the shortened 2020 season, 15 of those behind the dish, and batted .250 with two doubles, six home runs and 16 RBI.

Janes credits much of the success for the hot 2020 start to junior pitcher Anissa Zacharczuk, who went 10-0 in 13 appearances.

“She was really effective in terms of her movement of her pitches,” Janes said. “She worked a lot in the offseason breaking down her pitches to the basics. Being her catcher, it was so nice to see the way that her hard work was paying off and we could see how everything that she was working on was worth it.”

A member of Canada’s junior national team in 2017, Janes acknowledges that she has had an unusual career at Simon Fraser. Between three head coaches and a pandemic, her career has seen its ups and downs but she looks back with an attitude of gratitude.

“Coach Renney was an Olympic coach. Coach Tina was on the national team and Coach Michelle was also a student-athlete,” Janes said. “They all brought so much to the program. I am so glad that I was able to learn so much from each of them.”

With the 2021 season on hold, Simon Fraser continues to practice as normal.

There is some hope for games against the University of British Columbia and Douglas College later in the spring, but much of the focus is on getting ready for 2022.

And while it is not clear if Janes will be back for that sixth season, she is practicing as if she will be back.

“As a catcher you want to be there for your pitchers, so that is something that I am working on, especially with our new pitchers,” Janes said. “Hitting is something I am very focused on. I am making sure that I am working on my weaknesses so that during the season they are my strengths.”

There is no doubt that Janes would love the opportunity to play one more year for Simon Fraser, but she has her future to consider. As long as she has dreamed of success on the softball field, she has also dreamed of a career as an orthodontist since middle school.

“I loved my orthodontist,” Janes said. “I had great experiences with him and I was so excited for every appointment. I have always loved the sciences and doing things with my hands. With that manual dexterity and the draw to the sciences, it all played into that profession and kept drawing me there.”

With its reputation as a challenging, research-driven institution, Janes has been challenged in all her of her classes during her Simon Fraser career. This year, with the pandemic, has provided new challenges with remote learning.

“Having classes move online was super difficult for me,” she said. “Recorded lectures can pile up quickly. So I have to make sure that I am keeping up on my academics.”

Whether or not Janes returns to Burnaby Mountain in 2022 likely hinges on graduate school. She recently interviewed with the dental school at McGill University in Montreal and will find out in about a month if she is accepted.

If this year is the end of her softball career, Janes said that she will leave the field knowing that the game has made her into a better person.

“Knowing that it is time to hang up the cleats is super sad. It’s not something that I am looking forward to, to be completely honest,” Janes said. “It’s allowed me to make so many friendships. I have learned so much.

“I don’t feel like I would be where I am and the person that I am without the things that I have learned from softball. Time management, relationships with people, balancing so many different responsibilities and learning to do things in every realm of your life to the best of your ability.”

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