To win a high school state championship in any sport is to experience a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, but winning a state crown with a teammate who happens to be your sibling makes for an even better memory.
Thus was the case last November when the Greater Atlanta Christian volleyball team bested Sandy Creek 3-1 to claim the Class AAA state championship, the first state volleyball crown in school history. Key members of the team included middle hitter Janie Stinchcomb and her younger sister, setter Addie Stinchcomb.
“To win a state championship is incredible and to be able to say you did it with your sister is a memory they’ll have together forever,” said GAC volleyball coach Rachel VanderPol.
“The joy that you feel in the moment drowns out all the practices when you’re super-tired and you didn’t know if you could go on or if you wondered if all this work was worth it,” said Janie. “We were able to push through and listen to the voice inside our head and keep going. We played fearlessly and it paid off.”
“Winning state was such an amazing experience,” said Addie. “After the last point, when we all piled together on the court, that was such a surreal moment. We’d worked so hard up to that moment and to see all our work pay off was insane. It was GAC’s first state championship, and to be able to do it with my sister made it even more amazing.”
The Stinchcomb sisters have one more shot to capture another state title together as Addie is in her sophomore campaign and Janie completes her final season at GAC before heading off to a college volleyball career at Samford.
The 2022 season has been somewhat rockier, as the Spartans — who this year moved from Class AAA to Class AAAAA — began with a 5-8 mark, but they have won three straight over Hebron Christian, Northview and Chattahoochee to even their record at 8-8. The Stinchcombs and their teammates have not lost hope, however, as they feel playing a tougher schedule now will pay off in the postseason.
“I would definitely say our record is not what it was last year,” said Janie. “A major factor is the level of competition we’re playing this year versus last year. Last year, we didn’t play as many strong teams and this year most of the games we’ve played are against huge, competitive (Class) AAAAAAA schools.
“Our coach made a wise decision in scheduling these games. We may be losing more than winning, but we’re also getting better in the process because it’s so competitive. The record is not ideally where we want it to be, but we are learning, and every game I truly believe we’re getting better. We will be ready when region comes around.”
“I’m seeing the big picture,” said Addie. “This team has been together for so long and we’re so close, on and off the court. We’re just figuring out where we want to go and how all this is going to work out. It’s going to be really great. We’ve had tougher competition and the build-up has been a lot tougher this year. We’re going to get there.”
But win or lose, the sisters — the daughters of Jenny and Matt Stinchcomb (Matt is a Parkview grad, a former Georgia All-American and an NFL player, as well as a Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Famer) — both said they’ve enjoyed playing on the same side.
“It’s so fun,” said Addie, who is also on the GAC swimming and diving team. “Sometimes I don’t see Janie a lot because of school and she plays club and I play club, but when we get to be together we spend a lot of time together. And since it’s her senior year, I want to spend as much time with her as I can before she goes to college. Connecting on the court is a different type of bonding. A hitter and a setter need to connect, but as far as us being related, that helps a lot.”
“We were teammates last year for the first time,” said Janie. “It was awesome, especially having her being the setter and me being the hitter. It really helped our relationship on and off the court. There are fun moments and there are moments you get frustrated with each other, but you work through it. Our relationship has developed and matured because of that.”
VanderPol, who said she played on the same team with siblings in college but before last year had never coached siblings, said the Stinchcombs contribute to the team in so many different ways.
“Their parents have obviously done a marvelous job raising these young women,” she said. “They’re two different kids, and that’s fun to see on and off the court. Janie brings a really cool vibe to the team. She’s one of the most selfless, encouraging players I have ever met.
“And Addie comes in as an incredible athlete that’s super-versatile. She has set for us, she swings outside for us, she plays back row and she’s played right side. She can kind of morph into a multitude of roles, which is cool. Their skills are different, but they share that very encouraging nature.”
For Janie, who began playing volleyball at 13 (“I wasn’t very good — I was just a tall girl they put in the middle,” she said), finishing up her high school career is somewhat bittersweet, but she’s making sure to savor every second.
“I’m trying to find the balance between looking to the future and enjoying where I am now,” she said. “As cheesy as it sounds, I’m taking in every moment. You never get your senior year back and I probably won’t be playing with any of these people again, so I’m just enjoying the ups and the downs and everything in between.”
For Addie, who said she became interested in volleyball when Janie started playing, Janie’s graduation will mark the departure of her sister, teammate and “high school guide.”
“I’ve thought about just being without Janie in general,” she said. “We have a little brother (Whit, 12) and he’s great but I get a lot of advice from her. She’s been my guide through high school, ranging from academic stuff to ‘Does this skirt look cute?’ It varies, but she’s been a great guide. She’s been very helpful and I’m going to miss her a lot. But she’s staying pretty close so I’ll be excited to watch her play in college.”