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'A special player': BYU's Rylee Jensen taking game to new heights

PROVO — Rylee Jensen has a knack for being her best when it matters most — even though her first big audition for BYU softball coaches didn't find her in top form.

That audition came between her freshman and sophomore years of high school after attending a BYU softball camp. That's where Cougars coach Gordon Eakin let Jensen know he was impressed with her play, but wanted to see her perform in live game situations.

That chance came at a national tournament in California with Jensen feeling under the weather.

"I remember waking up with the flu and then ending up in urgent care the day before the game, and I was like telling my mom that (BYU) isn't going to want me and I wouldn't be able to play good," the Idaho Falls product recalled. "But my mom calmed me down and let me know it was going to be fine."

Turns out Mom was right.

Jensen battled through her ailments and performed well enough to impress the BYU coaches in attendance. Following a few phone calls, a scholarship offer was made.

Receiving that offer was a big deal for Jensen, who fell in love with the BYU softball program and the Provo campus during her first summer camp.

"I had other options, but after being there and seeing everything BYU had to offer up close — I just knew I wanted to be there and to get a chance to play for coach Eakin," Jensen said.

Eakin informed Jensen of the offer shortly after the tournament; she accepted later that same day.

While having a scholarship offer in hand throughout most of a prep career can be comforting, it can also motivate the opposition.

"It seemed like most the teams we played knew full well that I was going to BYU, so they all really wanted to get me out," Jensen said. "Sometimes it seemed if teams cared about getting me out as much as beating our team, so that was frustrating, although it was obviously great to be committed."

Jensen, who plays left field for the Cougars, arrived at BYU for the 2017 season and was shortly greeted with a big surprise. It came prior to the first game when Eakin informed Jensen his then-first-year freshman would bat leadoff.

"When he read us the lineup I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. I'm going to die,' " Jensen recalled. "But it all worked out, thank goodness."

That first game saw her go 4-for-4 from the plate. She parlayed that outing into several standout performances during the season and was named West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year.

"We had the whole fall with her prior to the season and we just realized from the start that she was a special player, or at least had the makings of a special player," Eakin said. "So when she came in during the fall she proved our judgment right."

BYU's Rylee Jensen looks to run after a hit as BYU and Utah play in a softball game at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.
BYU's Rylee Jensen looks to run after a hit as BYU and Utah play in a softball game at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Jensen hit for a .338 average that first year, finishing the season with 34 RBI and six home runs. She posted similar numbers her sophomore year (.329, 21 RBI, six home runs) before moving up measurably this year.

Entering Monday's game versus Colorado State, Jensen held a batting average of .404, with 31 RBI and 10 home runs.

"She's been very good for us since she's been here. So I'm not sure she's made a huge jump this year, but she's definitely elevated her game this year," Eakin said. "She's just a tremendous athlete that has a drive that doesn't like to lose in anything."

That drive led Jensen to put more work into the current season after being dissatisfied with her sophomore campaign.

"I mean, I didn't have a bad year, but I just wanted to see myself improve a lot more this season than I did from my freshman to my sophomore year," Jensen said. "So in my exit interview after last season (I said) that I was going to put in the work to potentially be an All-American. I don't know if he believed me then, but now I hope he does."

Jensen's main goals aren't personal. BYU is contending for yet another conference championship, but Jensen wants to take things further.

"Winning conference and getting to the NCAA Tournament is great, but we want to get past that," Jensen said, referring to becoming one of the 16 teams to advance out of the regional round. "It would be huge for us and the program. Hopefully we can get it done, but we're focused right now in finishing out the season strong."