Many Oregon State women’s basketball fans probably recognized Janessa Thropay more for her voice than her play on the basketball court — before this season that is.
Her wonderful performances of the national anthem before several sporting events — including before one of her own games — is a big reason.
Thropay acknowledged last weekend that was the case her first two seasons with the Beavers.
Not as much these days.
“I used to think your singing was better than your basketball but now I’m starting to think your basketball is better than your singing,” Thropay said a fan told her recently. “So definitely the first couple years that was my thing — OK basketball player and good voice.”
While her singing is still a pleasure to listen to, her play on the court has increased, allowing fans a chance to see what she can bring to the floor for the No. 8 Beavers, who host Santa Clara at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Thropay, a 6-foot-2 junior post, has started four games for the Beavers (6-1) and has seen her minutes increase from just 21 total her freshman season and 129 last season, to 101 already this season, helping her make a big impact.
“Now I think a lot of our fans will get to see the type of player she is,” said fellow junior Mikayla Pivec. “People have known her as a great singer but she’s also a great and talented basketball player.”
Thropay is averaging 4.0 points and 2.8 rebounds in about 14 minutes and has made 14 of her 19 field goal attempts. She is also second on the team with eight steals.
“You’re seeing the labors of all this hard work over the last two years pay off,” coach Scott Rueck said. “She’s been off the radar because she hasn’t been on the court from a fans’ perspective. But from our perspective, we’ve seen her and watched her grind for these two years without a lot of pay off. Now those things are paying off for her and she is being rewarded for that effort that she’s put in.”
Thropay played in just 28 total games her first two seasons, and only eight games in Pac-12 play. She did get in to two NCAA tournament games last season.
It wasn’t always easy but Thropay found a way to stay positive.
“I think a lot of that was just my perspective,” she said. “I had to realize, OK there is a lot of talent on this team. And our culture is so great that I didn’t ever feel like I wasn't necessary. Even in practice I felt like I needed to bring my effort, I needed to be on my ‘A’ game for the people who were going to be on the floor so they could play well.”
She said that understanding not only helped her grow as a basketball player but also changed the way she viewed playing time. She came to terms knowing her responsibility to the team was to provide them a challenge each day to make them better.
Having watched how former teammates Breanna Brown and Kolbie Orum had to bide their time before finally getting a chance to make a major impact also helped. Both were key contributors to the Beavers winning the 2017 Pac-12 title when Thropay was a freshman.
“That’s why I think this program is unique in that they still invest in you,” Thropay said. “Yeah, maybe you didn’t do much the first two years but they are still investing in you, they still want to see you succeed and I never felt like I was irrelevant. I always felt like I was being taught and progressing in some way.”
That feeling made it pretty easy for her to want to stick it out in Corvallis, instead of looking to transfer. She was occasionally asked if that was an option.
It never was, she said, in part due to the culture of the program.
“I love my team, I love this whole atmosphere,” she said. “There is not a better place you can be. … I will invite anyone to come here and just see it and experience what we have. It’s literally a family.
“OK, I could leave and maybe play more but is it worth that, is it worth losing what I have here? And I was like no. It didn’t really cross my mind.”
Thropay knew she would have an opportunity to compete for playing time in the front court this season with the loss of Marie Gulich. She never expected anything to be handed to her, instead looked at it as a “great opportunity for me to kind of take on that role and see what I can do with it.”
Nothing has been decided yet as Thropay, senior Joanna Grymek and junior Maddie Washington have all stared at the center position, while freshman Patricia Morris has also played about five minutes a game.
Thropay may be undersized to play the center spot, but she looks at her size, or lack thereof, as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
She’s also willing to do whatever it takes to help her team be successful, especially if it means diving all over the floor and doing the dirty work.
“So when I see that ball, that’s a chance for me to win,” she said. “I look at every opportunity on the floor like that. That’s why it’s so fun playing for a program that wins because I love to win. As long as we’re winning, I don’t really care what’s going on, I just want my team to be successful. So that’s an opportunity, those balls rolling on the floor, those (offensive) rebounds. Anything is an opportunity to win.”
Thropay’s passion for the game and her unselfishness over the years to play the role that is needed is not lost on her teammates or the coaching staff.
“I’m proud of Janessa for her fight to continue working,” Pivec said. “I know she’s gotten herself in really good shape and has worked on her strength. She just takes each day to see what she can do for this team and how to get better individually. She never gave up and continues to work on how she can impact this team in any way she can.”
Added Rueck: “I’ve been really pleased with Janessa and her mindset coming into the year. … It’s what you hope for all your athletes is they get rewarded for their hard work that people don’t see. I’m really happy with what she’s giving us.”