Stepping in at third base last season, things weren’t always easy for Bella Jensen.
The only senior on the Lake Mills softball team this year, Jensen had to fight for her right to start.
“She had to work on it,” head coach Bill Byrnes said. “She had to work to find a place and get into this college education. She just kept persevering. She waited for her time to come.”
Byrnes noted that in some small towns, if a player doesn’t start their freshman or sophomore year, they may just decide to get a job or do something else during their summer.
And since his arrival, the Bulldogs have enjoyed two winning seasons after winning just three games overall in 2018 and two overall in 2019 and 2020.
Also boasting the best single-season winning percentage since a 24-8 year in 2012 and recording the most wins since 2017, it’s fair to say that a lot has changed since Jensen started his career.
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“She stayed with us all the way, and now obviously we’re a little bit better,” Byrnes said. “She loves softball, her family loves softball. She was going to be with us whether we were 2-26 or 13-7.”
Jensen’s leadership qualities are a big part of that success, and being the only senior creates a bit of impetus to put those leadership qualities to work.
Described as someone who is always upbeat and makes others around the program happy, Jensen has always embraced the big sister role, even when she was younger.
Acting as a guide for some of the young players, not just in sport, but in life, is a big part of what she hopes to bring.
“I try to always be a leader, to show girls, especially freshmen, what high school sports are all about and what high school can mean for them,” Jensen said.
Players like junior receiver Madison Edwards take notice. She believes the team hasn’t always had the “right leadership”, which has led to some of the difficult seasons.
Now, however, the difference is day and night. Jensen is a big part of that difference, and she’s been able to reap the rewards of this newfound success.
With a first-round bye and a week off before facing Belmond-Klemme on Wednesday, the Bulldogs are in a situation unimaginable just a few seasons ago.
Going 11-5 in the Top of Iowa-West each of the last two seasons after finishing bottom of the conference several years in a row, the team will enjoy some time off with the 4th of July just around the corner. street.
With no real training in the past few weeks, it will also give time to get some valuable work done without any games to worry about each day.
But above all, this free time serves as a reward for such a huge turnaround. It’s a mark of how far Lake Mills has come, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Being on the softball team since I was in eighth grade, I’ve seen the lows we’ve had where there’s only been a few wins a season,” Jensen said. “To get through that pinnacle of winning and getting a first-round bye, it’s amazing to see the progress that can be built with the right dedication.”