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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Jordyn Bahl’s Impactful Return Resonates With Young Nebraska Softball Community

June 25, 2023

The meeting was Darren Dubsky’s idea. He started coaching Alexis Jensen a few years earlier when he noticed her immense potential. He had a pitching lesson scheduled with one of the best pitchers in Nebraska and Jensen, in middle school at the time, was the next in line. Come watch Jordyn Bahl practice, he told Jensen. It would be good for her.

Alexis sat on a bucket in the corner and watched one of the greatest high school softball players in the state’s history take instruction. Alexis felt awkward there, a young set of eyes sitting in on the one-on-one tutelage between a coach and a generational athlete. “She just took her time listening and it was really special,” she remembered. Dubsky handed them money and told them to go grab a few drinks. Alexis started peppering questions at Bahl, then still at Papillion-La Vista. She answered them earnestly and passed her knowledge onto the promising future. That started their developing mentor-student relationship.

“She just makes you like her the moment you meet her, honestly,” Alexis remembered of those times. “She’s so nice and patient.”

Lance Jensen remembers a time driving his daughter to the Gretna Performance center for a lesson. He and wife Tina still drive Alexis as she’s still not quite 16. Lance noticed an incredible pitcher working out a few tunnels over from Alexis. She was intense and the ball became an extension of her. The laces moved wherever she commanded. Lance was stunned. As she finished her workout and left, he asked her where she went to school. Papillion-La Vista, she told him. He thought about this on the drive home. He saw Tina and home and told her about how he felt sorry for that young woman. She’s that good but has to play behind the Jordyn Bahl everyone was talking about, he said. Weeks later he discovered it was Bahl he watched.

Bahl graduated from Papillion-La Vista as one of the best softball players Nebraska’s ever seen. She went on to Oklahoma, winning a national championship in both seasons there while living up to every expectation of greatness. A week after winning Most Outstanding Player at the Women’s College World Series, Bahl entered the transfer portal with an announcement alluding to coming home. That same week she committed to Nebraska. She cited a desire to return home to an “overlooked state for girls in softball at all ages.” In a press conference last week, she said it was always cool to represent Nebraska in tournaments across the country. No one expected anything from Nebraska. She liked proving them wrong.

“These people and this place means so much to me,” Bahl said of Nebraska. “It would be so cool to capitalize on what this team can do and have little girls dream of playing for this program.”

Alexis Jensen is one of those little girls. She watched Bahl and marveled when Papio beat Gretna. She continued to ask questions during those times they hung out. They became friends through softball. Alexis and Tina went to Oklahoma this spring to watch Bahl pitch. They were taken aback by the feverish softball support in Norman. Alexis focused on the relentless aggression Bahl exhibited in the circle. No batter stood a chance, Alexis remembered. She refused to be beat. Years of tips and lessons now leads Alexis into a similar echelon. Alexis is the reigning State Pitcher of the Year after her sophomore season at Gretna when she went 31-2 with a 0.72 ERA. She tied a state record by striking out 20 batters against North Platte. The Jensen family was told to expect a barrage of phone calls on September 1, when the NCAA first allows college coaches to contact Class of 2025 softball players. Lance isn’t sure what to expect from that process. His only frame of reference for recruiting is from the movie The Blindside.

The 15-year-old Jensen is a benefactor of resources unavailable to the preceding generation. Her mother played softball at her small hometown when a farmer’s wife would coach the team and whoever threw a strike first became the pitcher. The local bank bought them shirts as jerseys. There were no camps, just the $25 registration fee to play each summer. “It’s definitely evolved since I’ve played,” Tina said. She and Lance wanted Alexis to try every sport growing up. Admittedly, they wanted her to get into volleyball because of the family’s deep love for Husker volleyball. That never took hold on Alexis. She said it wasn’t fast enough. Softball offered hits, pitches and a constant mental game. She fell in love with it at 8. Her parents motivated her to practice in the off-season. “We’re not the Buffets,” Lance always says about camp realities, but they don’t want to limit Alexis’ experience to Omaha. They’d go to Oklahoma for an extended weekend and Alexis stayed passionate but even-keeled. Regardless of outcome or accomplishment, she returns home with a drive to improve.

Alexis wasn’t a natural at softball. She vividly remembers getting beat 25-0 in one of her first pitching performances. She resolved to improve and wouldn’t let that happen again. One of her biggest lessons came when she centralized her focus on the batter. Compete and throw the ball, she told herself. She doesn’t get too high or too low on the mound. Everything is about the team over self. Lance is thankful for her coaches along the way, including Gretna head coach Bill Heard. Those lessons with Dubsky provided her to learn first-hand from Bahl. Thinking back on it, Alexis largely learned her mental approach to softball from Bahl.

“Just how intense she is and how when she’s pitching every ball is hers and if she has the ball in her hand and is pitching then nobody is going to stop her from doing what she does best,” Alexis described. “It’s pretty cool because every pitch, every thing she does has a purpose to get her locked in and make the other team kind of nervous about hitting off her.”

Alexis throws a mean riseball and changeup. She’s been working on adding a dropball and curveball to her arsenal. All of them come with conviction from the lefty. Coaches praise her softball IQ and her parents love the enthusiasm she shares with her teammates. They’re continuing excitement for softball in Gretna that was handed down from Billie and Brooke Andrews. The Jensen family are fans of both Andrews sisters. They’ve often decided a hour before first pitch to drive to Bowlin Stadium to watch the Andrews duo at Nebraska. Alexis is keyed into each play and tells her mom what pitch she’d throw in that situation. Full count, nobody on, she’d throw something filthy to get the Michigan batter to chase.

Of course, those family days at Bowlin will be slightly more difficult to come by now. Nebraska reported 365 season ticket requests the Friday before Bahl entered the transfer portal. The waiting list now surpasses 3,000 for season tickets. The athletic department confirmed last week there will be additional seating brought in to meet at least some of the demand. Neither Tina or Lance got onto the waiting list for Nebraska season tickets. Friends in the softball community, however, jumped into line with a four-seat season ticket request. Lance is confident they can get into a Husker game in 2024 if they decide to go. Alexis said she’s happy for Bahl deciding to come home. She deserved a choice and the opportunity to be closer to family. It’s also fun to think about her helping get Nebraska to the Women’s College World Series.

Meanwhile, Alexis’ status as the next big recruit out of Nebraska is gaining attention from aspiring softball players. Kids excitedly say “That’s Alexis!” and “I got a high-five from Alexis” at games. In the spirit of what Bahl did for her, Alexis helps teach those girls. She’s worked with some at camps and passed on lessons to help pass along excitement for the sport. Sometimes that involves piggy-back rides and jokes on the diamond. Her parents are especially proud of that. Tina didn’t grow up with high school softball and now she’s watching her daughter spread love for the game. “She is trying to teach to help these younger girls get into the sport and learn their craft, hopefully,” Tina said.

“She understands what Jordyn did for her and she understands also that as she’s getting better support for her can do the same,” Lance offered. “It’s all about growing the sport.

“We have so many girls here who just love the game. It’s just going to continue to grow and this year is going to be an amazing year for the Huskers and hopefully it just carries on for the next few years.”

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