Provo • BYU junior left fielder Rylee Jensen is often asked how she got so good at softball while growing up in the tiny Southeastern Idaho community of Osgood, which is sort of halfway between Idaho Falls and Rigby.
Her answer: baseball, potatoes, long drives and a lot of hard work.
Jensen, who ranks No. 30 in the country with a .426 batting average, grew up on her family’s 14,000-acre farm and developed a strong arm by throwing potatoes at and with her three brothers when she wasn’t driving tractors, plows and potato diggers.
She also taught herself how to juggle — developing excellent hand-eye coordination — by tossing the small potatoes in the air when the equipment broke down during harvests.
Because “softball wasn’t very big in Idaho back then,” Jensen says, she played baseball against boys until her freshman year of high school, when her parents, Brett and Kristy Jensen, asked her to switch to softball.
“It was a 20-minute drive to my high school every day,” she said. “But I started playing softball in the ninth grade and I haven’t looked back. I grew up in the middle of nowhere.”
Now she’s in the middle of it all at BYU, which sits atop the WCC standings with an 8-1 league record, and is closing in on its 15th-straight NCAA tournament appearance. The Cougars (24-20 overall) host rival Utah (4-14, 15-32) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Gail Miller Field in Provo.
Jensen, a 5-foot-8 leadoff hitter, has pounded 10 home runs, driven in 28 runs and stolen five bases while playing almost flawlessly in left field. She went 7 for 12 in four games last week, scored six runs, hit two homers and drove in three runs to earn another WCC Player of the Week award.
She was the WCC Co-Freshman of the Year in 2017 and the WCC Player of the Year last year. Jensen gained some national attention in 2018 when her leaping catch over the left field fence robbed an LSU hitter of a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a scoreless game. The catch made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day.
“I have that on my phone and I still watch it a lot because it gives me an adrenaline rush,” she said. “It was my dream to do that, and it happened, so it was pretty cool. But the best thing was seeing how my teammates responded, and the love they gave me. That brought tears to my eyes."
“I believe Rylee is probably the best total package athlete that we’ve ever had roaming the outfield for us,” Eakin said. “She hits well, she runs well, she covers ground, she’s quick to the ball, she’s instinctive. I mean, I have had some great outfielders, and some great hitters. I’ve had some speed, and some long ball hitters. But you compress all those things into one player, and that is Rylee Jensen.”
That success started early.
Eakin put Jensen in BYU’s starting lineup in the Cougars’ first game of the 2017 season, and she promptly went 4 for 4 against nationally Nebraska, the best season-opening performance by a freshman in school history.
Eakin said after that game general manager Connie May of the Scrapyard Dawgs of the professional National Fastpitch Softball League told him, “that’s a kid we want playing for us in the future.”
It was almost as impressive as the time Jensen hit four home runs in a game at Skyline High in Idaho Falls. She would have had five, but her first hit ended up a double after it bounced off the top of the fence. Jensen had a couple other college offers, but picked BYU after attending a softball camp.
“It was the perfect distance away from home, and I just fell in love with the campus,” she said. “It is perfect with my standards and I have just loved it ever since I stepped foot on it.”
Her teammates love that she’s in Provo, too, and not just because her parents bring potatoes every time they visit and her father makes french fries for everyone at team barbecues.
“She is an incredible athlete who is also an extremely tough competitor,” Eakin said. “She’s been an excellent player since the first day she got here.”
BYU softball star Rylee Jensen
• Left fielder from Skyline High in Idaho Falls, Idaho, was her state’s Player of the Year in 2016
• West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year in 2017
• West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2018 as a sophomore
• Junior currently ranks No. 30 in the country with a .426 batting average in 2019 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs and five stolen bases