Janda leading the way for Center Grove softball

Asked about the early-season successes of senior shortstop Riley Janda, Center Grove coach Alyssa Coleman bites right down to the center of the Tootsie Pop.

“She’s just a beast,” Coleman said of Janda. “She knows softball, she loves to play it and she’s really freaking good at it.”

That part has been pretty evident for the last four years, but even by Janda’s lofty standards this spring has been something special. Through Monday’s win over Bloomington South, she’s leading the Class 4A No. 7 Trojans in just about every offensive category, batting .516 (16 for 31) with 17 runs batted in and 10 steals.

Janda had at least one hit and one RBI in each of the team’s first six games, and half of her hits so far (three doubles, two triples and two home runs) have been for extra bases.

The production isn’t exactly shocking, given that Janda has been in the Trojans’ starting lineup since her freshman year; she came into 2024 having scored 68 runs and driven in 52 more while posting a .344 career batting average.

But she’s found a new level of comfort this season — and it starts in the field, where she’s back in her happy place at short. Primarily a middle infielder her entire life, Janda was moved to third base last year for the benefit of the team but is back in a more familiar spot and making the most of it.

“I’ve just wanted this position for so long,” she said, “so now that I have it, I want to take advantage of it.”

Janda — who will continue her softball career at Louisville next year — calls it “owning my role.” Coleman says Janda is “just a great all-around player.”

“She’s a blast to watch and she’s always played big, and she’s always ready for the big moment,” the coach added.

While Janda is able to play more freely this season now that she’s in her preferred position and the recruiting process is behind her, she’s still got a hunger inside of her — in part because Center Grove hasn’t been reaching its usual lofty standards in the postseason. The Trojans advanced to the regional in her freshman season, but the last two years have ended with first-round sectional losses against Mooresville.

That hasn’t sat well with Janda and her teammates, who want and expect much more.

“We’ve already been talking about this year, we’re getting further than we have before,” Janda said, “and I think just talking about it makes it — not an expectation, but a want to win, and that’s something that we’ve been talking about a lot this year. Just wanting to win and having that passion for the game.”

Janda has always had the passion and been a natural leader, but she seems to have found the sweet spot where her intensity isn’t too much for some of her teammates at times. She says she’s taken bits and pieces of what previous seniors had offered and incorporated them into her own style.

The end result is a player that Coleman really can only describe with superlatives.

“She’s just more comfortable and more experienced than ever before,” the coach said, “and it’s her chance to be the queen of the diamond and kind of go for it.”