Jenna Lilley never rests to be best in the countryThere are sacrifices to make to be the best high school softball player, and not just in the area or the state, but the country. The last thing Jenna Lilley has time for during her senior year at North Canton Hoover High School is a boyfriend.
No offense fellas, but she has her priorities. Boyfriend?
“Nope, I’m married to the game,” Lilley said. “But I am going to go to prom this spring.”
It will be a rare sight, Lilley in a social setting at Hoover High School. The last football game she attended at North Canton’s Memorial Stadium was during her freshman year.
That’s because Lilley is busy not just planning to be the best softball player, but preparing for it. Her dedication rivals, if not surpasses, that of a high school football player. For half the school year, Lilley is up and out of the house by 6:30 in the morning, working out in Hoover’s weight room, which is attached to the football team’s locker room.
It doesn’t smell like the kind of place in which a girl would work out.
“It’s stinky and it does have a little bit of a smell to it in certain areas,” Lilley said, laughing. “But I can blare my music and do my own thing there. The floor is dirty, but I bring my little mat in there.”
Just before softball season, which is now, Lilley lifts twice a week and does running-strength conditioning twice a week. She hits a yoga class at least once a week.
Then six times a week, she heads to an indoor facility to hit in a batting cage for more than an hour. It’s no accident her batting average is near .700, or twice what a major league player’s average would be in a superb season. She’s a run producer on a Hoover team that has won a state championship every season since Lilley’s freshman year and went 34-0 last season.
Lilley’s training isn’t all about offense. Her mother, Debbie Lilley, has been known to hit her daughter groundballs in the winter, when she’s taking the infield two to three times and throwing three times a week as well.
“Jenna sets her own workout schedule,” Debbie Lilley said. “She takes the initiative. I get in trouble with my other kids when I talk about this, like they didn’t do it, too. But Jenna sets up her schedule. It’s not me telling her. Her passion is so strong. She’s all in.”
Now you see why she doesn’t have time for a boyfriend?
“I don’t have time. It’s not a huge priority of mine,” said Lilley, who’s off to the University of Oregon after this season on a softball scholarship. “My best friends are in softball. They understand where I’m coming from. I’m gone almost every single weekend.
“I’m doing what I want to do; not what everybody else does. I don’t want to be like everybody else. My first priority is to be the best softball player ever, and my best friends are there playing with me.”
As if the brutal training schedule isn’t enough for the shortstop player, Lilley’s mom makes sure Jenna gets to Chicago nearly every weekend for about half the year. She plays on an elite softball team based there with players from Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, South Carolina and Florida.
Lilley has driven to Chicago with her mother so many times, she can tell you how many turns there are from her house to downtown Chicago.
“I could talk you through getting to Chicago right now,” Lilley said.
Even Lilley knows her schedule is, perhaps, a tad loaded. She doesn’t apologize for it. She wants to play professional softball when her time at Oregon is up.
“I think a lot of people train hard,” Lilley said. “I think I’m a little crazy. When your coaches tell you that you need to socialize more, you know it could be a problem. People train hard, but I try to take it to the next level. I don’t want anyone to outwork me. When you’re committed—very few people are driving to Chicago every weekend—you make a choice. I choose to lift, to hit, to take infield and hit every single day.
“The thing that separates me from most softball players is they have a social life. On a Friday night, am I going to a basketball game, or am I going to get my hitting in? You have to make sacrifices if you want to be the best. I don’t look at it as sacrificing because I’m doing what I love.”
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