It takes 12 letters to spell Chow | MIHS senior could achieve rare feat

Islander Janelle Chow serves during a volleyball game against Seattle Prep September 29, 2008. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Islander Janelle Chow serves during a volleyball game against Seattle Prep September 29, 2008.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Very few athletes earn 12 varsity letters during their high school athletic career. Just three have achieved this feat since 2000, with the last being Jean Laschever in 2004. But one more will be added to this exclusive list when Mercer Island senior Janelle Chow competes for the track and field team this spring.

“I think it shows my work ethic,” said Chow. “When I was in middle school, I didn’t even know about letters. I found out during my first volleyball season.”

This accomplishment is only achieved by competing on varsity during all three sports seasons every year in high school. Chow’s achievement has come with a reputation as the best athlete in the school — a reputation that began during her sophomore year.

“I don’t like to be cocky,” said Chow. “I try to be modest about it. If someone else brings it up, I’ll talk about it.”

Chow’s quiet demeanor off the court is a stark contrast to her dominating performances. But the senior has earned more than just some patches on a letterman’s jacket. She helped guide the volleyball team to its best placing at state in 30 years, was a big part of the girls basketball program’s turnaround and is aiming for the state title in the triple jump. She even won the Most Valuable Player award in 3A KingCo this year. That last honor caught her off guard.

“I am pretty proud of that. It was always one of my goals,” said Chow, who was also named to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s All Area Team for volleyball. “They only choose 10 girls out of 86 teams.”

Her passion for competition has led her not only to her current three sports, but she has also been successful in playing soccer and tennis, among other sports.

“I made varsity in tennis my freshman year, but I switched to track because I felt I would be able to work out more,” said Chow.

That switch to track has made Chow one of the most competitive athletes in KingCo. She has been to the district meet in nearly every season and competes in the sprints and long jump, along with the triple jump.

“I would love to finish my track career on the podium at state,” said Chow.

Ironically, Chow never competed in the all-Island track meet when she was in middle school. The event is, for most Islanders, an introduction to competitive athletics.

The senior got involved in sports, including soccer, when she lived in Canada.

“My parents were never really all that into sports, but my mom coached my teams when I was young,” said Chow, whose family moved to Mercer Island when she was in third grade.

The senior gave up soccer in favor of volleyball when she entered high school.

“I did soccer since I was in kindergarten,” she said. “I love volleyball, but my favorite sport is whatever I am doing during the current season.”

Doing three sports is extremely time-consuming. Chow has added to the chaos by competing in club volleyball, playing flute for the Mercer Island High School marching band, being an avid photographer and staying involved with her church. This season, Chow finishes the day with basketball practice and then goes to Covington, a 45-minute drive, for club volleyball practice. Her club team is ranked fifth in the nation.

“A lot of my friends think I am crazy,” said Chow. “I am surprised how well I do. But I like to be busy.”

Fall was not easy either, as she balanced a five-hour marching band practice with high school volleyball practice.

Volleyball is the sport that Chow thinks she will play in college, although she has not picked a school yet.

“I would like to do volleyball and basketball in college, but it is kind of impossible because the seasons overlap,” said Chow.

The Islander volleyball team’s fourth-place finish at state was one of the biggest highlights for Chow.

“We talked about placing higher than sixth since that was what the 1999 team got,” said Chow, who went to state all four years with the team. “We thought our chance passed us by with all the seniors that graduated last year.”

Her transition into the basketball season seemed to be flawless. She started competing in basketball when she was in third grade. The evolution of the girls basketball program during Chow’s career is not a coincidence, as her work ethic has been contagious.

“We used to always lose when I started, and we thought that would be normal,” said Chow. “But we have gotten better every year. It has been cool to see how the program has succeeded.”

The team made it to districts last season and should compete for the KingCo title this season.

Chow said that her biggest role models have been seniors who she looked up to, her volleyball coach, Dino Annest, and basketball coach Jamie Prescott.

“They have always known what to do at the right time,” said Chow of her coaches. “They are the reason I have been so successful.”

The support of her family has also been a big contributor. Chow’s father can always be found at her games behind a camera while her mom is in the stands cheering her on.

“They always tell me to be at practice early, and their support — along with my brother — means a lot to me,” said Chow.

That support has allowed Chow to earn a letterman’s jacket, which many athletes would like to own but only a few have ever attained.

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