Article by Scott Stocker/Colorado High School Coaches Association
Photo Courtesy Kevin Kreck/GazettePreps.com
WESTMINSTER, Colo. - NAU Volleyball incoming freshman Janae Vander Ploeg has won the 2012 Fred Steinmark High School Athlete of the Year award, signifying her as the top female student multi-sport athlete in the state of Colorado. Honoring student-athletes who excel in athletics, academics, and citizenship, Vander Ploeg earned the award after starring in volleyball, basketball, and soccer during a distinguished high school career.
"I can't think right now," said Vander Ploeg, a graduate of Cheyenne Mountain HS. "This is such a huge honor. Just to be in the running has meant so much to me. Fred Steinmark was such a excellent athlete and student and to win. I just feel so humbled."
While this is the 41st year for the Steinmark Award, sponsored by the Colorado High School Coaches Association, it's the 39th for the girls which was first presented in 1974. Vander Ploeg is the 40th winner as there were two girl winners in 1984.
The rules for an athlete's nomination require that two sports be played during an athletes high school career - in which the athlete must have been selected All-State in one sport and at least All-League in another. Tthe student must carry at least a 3.0 grade point average and being active in school and community activities also carries a lot of weight with the voting coaches.
Throughout her high school career, Vander Ploeg has excelled in three sports: volleyball, basketball and soccer, lettering in all three, all four years. And, among the trio, her career in volleyball has been nothing short of superb while earning All-American honors as a junior and senior.
But then, she hasn't been too shabby in basketball or soccer either.
"I love being a student athlete," Vander Ploeg said. "Early in my career I learned to balance my athletics with both academics and family life. I believe that playing these sports is the reason why I am so happy all the time. It's something I would not trade the world for.
"This Award serves to acknowledge athletes in Colorado, and allows them to become part of Freddie Steinmark's lasting footprint. I did not want this award only for myself, but I wanted it for my school, my teammates, my family, my coaches and my friends. Our family shares a saying, 'People may not remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel.' I want to have a positive impact on the people I meet, just like Freddie."
Vander Ploeg, who will enter Northern Arizona University in the fall, helped lead Cheyenne Mountain to four-consecutive Class 4A state volleyball championships. She earned second-team All-League honors as a freshman as the Indians won their first title in the sport and it only became better from there.
Vander Ploeg was named first team All-Conference as a sophomore then topped off her high school career being named the state tournament Most Valuable Player as well as Player of the Year by the Denver Post in both her junior and senior seasons. She finished her career with the most kills and aces in school history.
"Outside of her athletic gifts, Janae makes her teammates better with her leadership and work ethic," wrote volleyball coach David Barkley. "Her ego never comes into play. My understanding is that she feels the same way about all the sports she plays. When all of the these great attributes are combined, it is easy to see why Janae is so deserving of this award."
Volleyball, of course, is played in the fall in Colorado, but that certainly didn't stop the exploits of Vander Poeg in the winter. She went on to earn second-team All-State honors in basketball in her sophomore and junior seasons and first team as a senior.
As a sophomore and junior she led the team in points, rebounds, blocks and steals and was second in assists. The stats changed just a bit as a senior, leading the team in rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, but second in points. However, it all led to Vander Ploeg garnering the most points and rebounds in Cheyenne Mountain history for both boys and girls.
"Janae is phenomenal with her wisdom and maturity," wrote basketball coach and chemistry teacher Janie Mueller. "She has a gift of optimism and constant joy. Rarely does one find Janae without a smile on her face. She leads her teammates by example with hard work and dedication and she simply enjoys every moment and experience of life."
Vander Ploeg has been selected All-Conference in soccer since she was a freshman helping to lead the Indians to a third-place finish in state her freshman and sophomore seasons and fifth as a junior. She was the leading scorer on the team as a freshman and currently second in scoring this past season as a senior. It's been a season in which the Indians were ranked No. 1 in the state in 4A.
Yet excellence has not been just on the athletic fields for Vander Ploeg. She has been a member of the academic Honor Roll throughout her career with a weighted 3.84 grade point average and graduates Cumme Laude.
She has served on Cheyenne Mountain's Student Council, has been involved in Colorado Springs Care and Share Food Drives, a member of Younglife Christian Youth Group, Eco Defense - recycle for Schools and has been coaching in camps for elementary students in all her athletic endeavors.
"In my seventeen years that I have taught, I believe Janae is one of the best and brightest students that I have had the opportunity and pleasure to teach," wrote history teacher Lawrence Lawson. "Unlike many young people, Janae realizes how precious life is and tries to live her life with meaning and purpose. She is humble and possesses a great sense of humor. She is a very special young woman, the epitome of the student-athlete."
Vander Ploeg has also been highly involved in club volleyball playing in the Junior Nationals as a captain of her club teams over the past four seasons.
"Perhaps Janae's strongest asset is the caliber of person she is," writes Cheyenne Mountain Principal John Weishaar. "She exhibits maturity and insight beyond her years. She displays integrity beyond reproach; empathy; and a sense of community service only seen in a small percentage of the population. She can take command of a large group like Student Council or work one-on-one with a struggling student. She treats both with care and a commitment to excellence."