Photo from Jenna DeLong
Even if it’s been almost a year since softball standout Jenna DeLong graduated, her teammates still haven’t forgotten about the fire extinguisher.
“Yeah, we played a trick on her (DeLong’s) roommate, and we sprayed her with the fire extinguisher,” said junior Macie Silliman, DeLong’s close friend and former teammate at Drake. “So now the big joke with everyone is Jenna and the fire extinguisher. Every time we see a fire extinguisher, (we) take a picture and send it to Jenna.”
DeLong graduated from Drake University last May with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast news journalism and in English. She also graduated as the all-time strikeout leader for the Bulldogs and was named the Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year her senior season.
DeLong went 21-8, posted a remarkable 1.89 earned run average and registered 228 strikeouts last season.
When it was time to make a decision after graduation, it’s understandable that DeLong was not ready to turn her back on softball.
“I still wanted to play. I flew to the Netherlands to play professionally,” DeLong said. “My intentions were to play softball and get paid for it.”
The Tex Town Tigers, located in Enschede, Netherlands, gave DeLong the opportunity to continue playing softball.
However, two weeks into the season, the Tigers’ head coach Meagan Hartung walked out and left the team out to dry.
“Dutch lifestyle is completely different. Everything is laid back, everything is slower,” DeLong said. “It wasn’t that big of a deal to them. To me it was a big deal.”
The Tigers were stacked with experienced players, and the season went on without skipping a beat.
Once it was time for the European Cup, coaches Michael Bastian and Monti VanBrunt joined the team. The Tigers went on to win the European Cup under Bastian and VanBrunt. DeLong helped clinch the win in the team’s 6-0 victory over Sparks Haarlem.
After winning the most prestigious cup in European softball, DeLong only knew one way to celebrate.
“She carried on the tradition when she was over in Holland,” Silliman said. “They won the Cup, and apparently they went back to the hotel, and they got all of the fire extinguishers, and (it) cost them all this money and whatever, but she celebrated with the fire extinguishers.”
Following her successful sixth-month stint in the Netherlands, DeLong got offered a job by Bastian and VanBrunt.
“I was trying to figure out where softball was going to take me. I met some people that presented that opportunity,” DeLong said. “They wanted me to come to Dallas to coach the TFS. It’s a traveling softball team.”
Team TFS Texas is a professional softball organization of The Fastpitch School.
Even though DeLong was interested, she had to turn down the position.
“That’s not going to pay my rent; that’s not (going to) help me in my career,” DeLong said. “If you can find me a primary job, I will consider it. I thought these guys were crazy; it wasn’t important enough to move to Dallas.”
DeLong came back to Des Moines and began looking for a job.
“I had applied to jobs everywhere, all industries in Des Moines. I needed to start a career,” DeLong said.
DeLong considered joining the Bulldogs as a volunteer assistant coach. She still wanted to be around the program. But as winter break approached, DeLong heard there was an opening at the University of Texas at Dallas from VanBrunt and Bastian.
“She was pretty bummed about it, but it was a good decision for her. She didn’t really want to leave yet,” Silliman said. “Last year, we got second in the (MVC) tournament. She wanted to be around everyone. But a better option came up for her so she could move forward in life.”
DeLong is now the assistant softball coach and the women’s cross-country head coach at UT Dallas.
While DeLong is comfortable with what she has to offer as a softball coach, being involved in cross-country is uncharted territory.
“That will be entertaining. It starts next fall. I’ve never ran cross-country my entire life,” DeLong said. “There’s a lot of help around here. I’ve got the entire summer to recruit.”
As for the softball aspect of her job, DeLong is loving every minute of it. She looks back on the first practice of the season and remembers how surprised she was by the skill level of her players.
“I was really excited. I got to watch the pitchers throw,” DeLong said. “I didn’t know anything about Division III. I was pleasantly surprised with their skill level.”
If there’s something that DeLong has learned throughout her coaching stint, it is how much work assistant coaches put into a program.
“I haven’t regretted one day. I work 13, 14 hours a day. I’ve realized how much an assistant coach actually does,” DeLong said. “I would like to thank my assistant coach (at Drake) for everything that she did.”
After only three months of coaching, DeLong is still working on developing her coaching style.
“I guess I don’t really have a coaching style or philosophy. Be positive and encouraging, and people will want to play with you and for you,” DeLong said.
DeLong still misses her friends back in Des Moines and her family back in Idaho. She’s still developing her coaching philosophy and learning her role as an assistant coach, but DeLong is comfortable with the role softball is now playing in her life.
So far, the Comets are rolling along nicely with a 21-13 record. This doesn’t come as a surprise to Silliman.
“I think she will be very successful. Not only because of her background, (but) she’s got the passion for it and has a lot of softball knowledge,” Silliman said.
DeLong is happy in Dallas, and she’s excited to see how much her team can still improve and progress.
“Life is good here. It’s fun to see a different part of the country,” DeLong said. “There’s always room for improvement. We still have more to accomplish.”
In the meantime, DeLong will continue enjoying the ride without forgetting her Bulldog roots.
“I keep up with them everyday. I miss them a lot,” DeLong said. “I’d give anything to be on that team again. Being here is the next step of my life.”