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From Grizz to Cougar: Skyline grad Jensen making history at BYU

Rylee Jensen plays left field in BYU’s April 6 home game against Santa Clara. Courtesy of BYU Photo

By MARLOWE HEREFORD
mhereford@postregister.com

Two years ago, Rylee Jensen concluded a record softball career at Skyline High School as the Post Register’s All-Area Softball Player of the Year and 5A/4A High Country Conference Player of the Year.

The outfielder’s No. 2 uniform went from sky blue to BYU royal blue, but she is still making noise two years later.

Last year, she was named West Coast Conference Co-Freshman of the Year after leading the WCC in batting average (.452), runs scored (19) and on-base percentage (.556) through conference play. Through 55 games, Jensen was leadoff batter for 48 of them and she entered NCAA Regional play with 52 hits, 39 runs scored, 33 RBIs, six home runs, .356 batting average, .568 slugging percentage and .464 on base percentage.

Another accolade, the biggest in the WCC, came Jensen’s way this season. She became the fourth BYU player to receive WCC Player of the Year upon leading the WCC in on base percentage (.608), runs scored (18) and walks (11) and owning a No. 2 batting average of .474.

Jensen described both awards as an honor, as well as the opportunity to play for an NCAA Division I softball powerhouse.

“It feels just like yesterday I got to BYU and now I’m halfway done,” Jensen said Tuesday by phone. “It’s been a blur, but it’s been a dream.”

Jensen made a statement right away in BYU’s first game of 2016 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, versus Nebraska. When head coach Gordon Eakin read the lineup card, Jensen was listed as leadoff batter.

“I thought I was gonna lose it,” Jensen said. “He read the lineup and some of the seniors saw the terror on my face and they said, ‘Rylee, gotta take a deep breath. We need you right now.’”

The Cougars won 12-1 and Jensen went 4 for 4, the best season-opening performance by a freshman in BYU softball history per former BYU sports information director Kimberlie Haner. It was her first experience of playing on a nationally ranked team against a nationally ranked team, and the beginning of her first 60 game season.

She credits some superstitions — listening to the same pregame playlist and putting her right sock on before her left — as well as her coaches for helping her adjust to Division I softball.

Rylee Jensen bats against Southern Utah in a BYU home game on March 16. Courtesy of BYU Photo

“I’m a perfectionist and I’d be mad if I didn’t get a hit every single time,” Jensen said. “I struggled with that my freshman year. I’ve gotten better at that this year. I can go to them and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working right now. I can’t hit the ball to save my life.’ They’ve taken me under their wing and they make me better very single day.”

The instruction and investment not only paid off in WCC awards and being a regular in BYU’s lineup, but an appearance on SportsCenter Top 10 in March versus LSU. BYU lost that game 2-1 in 12 innings, but her over the wall catch in left field that robbed a would-be walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth made No. 9 that evening.

She was at dinner with her team when her phone started blowing up with texts telling her to turn on ESPN.

“I’ve grown up watching SportsCenter and throught it’d be cool to make it,” Jensen said. “I saw it and was like, ‘Oh man. My life is complete.’ At the time, I thought it was just another catch. When I got to see it from that angle on SportsCenter, I saw how good it was. A lot of LSU fans sat in left field the next day and they were giving me compliments.”

The Cougars are also enjoying having Jensen for reasons other than her bat and glove. When asked as a freshman to share a little known fact about herself, Jensen shared that she grew up on a potato farm in Idaho. It prompted conversation with her teammates, who asked if she could bring them potatoes sometime.

Her parents Brett and Kristy came through.

“Every time my parents come down to games, they’re always bringing down potatoes to my coaches and teammates,” Jensen said. “At team barbecues, my dad makes the fries. Everyone loves it.”

The proximity of Provo to eastern Idaho has allowed the Jensens to have at least one family member attend BYU home games. The second oldest of five siblings, Jensen said her parents plan vacations around her games and keep neighbors and friends informed.

“My parents tell me, ‘so and so said they’re super proud of you,’” Jensen said. “It makes me super thankful I’m from a small town.”

Jensen is also grateful for the time she gets to spend with her family while balancing collegiate softball. After the fall and winter, she isn’t able to visit until softball season ends in May or June. She is spending this summer traveling to Utah to help with BYU camps and enjoying down time in Idaho with her family in between coaching her 8 year-old sister Bella’s summer softball team.

It is not the first time she has coached a youth team, but it has provided perspective and admiration for what her coaches do.

“It’s definitely tested my patience,” Jensen said, laughing. “I don’t even know how my coaches do it. It’s been awesome to build those relationships with those girls. I just love giving back to the game.”

Jensen, who is studying exercise and wellness, aspires to become a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant. She said softball will remain part of her life, and she would like to coach in some capacity. As for potentially playing beyond college for USA Softball or National Pro Fastpitch, Jensen said professional scouts do attend some of BYU’s tournaments and contact coaches, but she is focused on the day to day right now.

“There’s definitely been some interest to play pro,” Jensen said. “I’ve still got two more years before I worry about that. At some point I want to get married and have a family, so we’ll see where that comes into the picture. There’s so many good players out there. I’m just trying to get better and better every single day.”

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