One must wonder about Bob Janko. What kind of charmed life has this man been living that he could coach Capistrano Valley into Orange County's top 10 with a lineup that hardly registers a blip on an opponent's radar?
What smoke and mirrors did he use to get this team to the Southern Section Division I semifinals?
Janko just completed his first season as Capistrano Valley's head coach, and in it, he guided the Cougars--who didn't have a senior starter--to their first league softball title in the school's 24-year history. And for doing so, Janko is The Times' Orange County Coach of the Year.
What was his secret?
"He's fun to work with," explained his pitcher, Brooke Weekley, who went 20-6 with a 0.84 earned-run average. "He's really positive. He's nice while he coaches."
He picks his moments to be serious, but players enjoy Janko, a math teacher who waited in the wings six years as an assistant.
"Mr. Janko wanted to be head coach for a long time," said first baseman Kristin Timbers. "I know that once he got it, he was so excited for the season to start. Every game was the best game for him. You could see it in his eyes. He loves the game. I think it made it more fun for the girls too."
Winning is fun, and there were certainly coaches who did that this season. Scott Weber has turned around the program at Loara; Dennis Fox coached Sunset League co-champion Esperanza into the Division I finals after the Aztecs make their first playoff appearance since 1988; Ernie Rodriguez took over the Mater Dei program at midseason and guided it to the Serra League title.
Still, it was Janko who stood out, believing in his team when few others did.
The Cougars won the South Coast League title with a 9-1 record, but even Timbers admitted she had doubts in the beginning.
"I knew that this year was going to be different, but I never expected we would get as far as we did," she said. "I didn't expect to win the league title. I thought we might get second or third. Janko made it interesting."
Very interesting, it turns out.
After going 14-14 a year ago, Capistrano Valley came back this season with a 23-8-1 record, which included three playoff victories to get into the section semifinals against Esperanza. There, the Cougars lost, 2-0, to Kristen Dedmon, who pitched a no-hitter.
"Hitting was our weakness all year," Janko said, "and it cost us."
The Cougars had a team batting average of only .208.
"Other than their pitcher," said 1997 coach of the year Rob Weil of Pacifica, "I can't name another player in their lineup. And we played against them."
And that should speak volumes about Janko and his Cougars' accomplishments.
"He stressed attitude and he stressed team," Timbers said. "A 15-person team is the whole team, not just one person. I think we had the potential, and he helped us bring it out. I believe we all played to our potential. We're always striving for more, but all the girls played their hardest this year."