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From Olivehurst to Division I: Conway making a home at Michigan

Apr. 1—Yuba City High School head softball coach Patty Gates first met Jenissa Conway when she was just 8 years old, playing travel ball and learning how to pitch.

More than a decade later, the Marysville High School product and Olivehurst native is roaming center field as a true freshman for the University of Michigan.

Conway has started each of the Wolverines' 23 games through March 13 and is among the best center fielders in the Big 10 while hitting .220 with a .424 slugging percentage and .347 on-base percentage. Conway has homered twice with 14 runs batted in for the 13-10 Wolverines.

"We were fully aware that Jenissa could make an immediate impact on the field because her athleticism is high, off the charts," Michigan head softball coach Bonnie Tholl said. "As we welcome newcomers to campus, our role is to help them play the game at the college pace and build their softball savvy as they compete against other high-level players. Our staff were thrilled to have such an outstanding athlete to be highlighted immediately and for the future."

Gates said Conway has forever been ahead of the curve on the softball diamond. She said Conway is gifted both physically and mentally, as Conway was able to outpace other members of the team from the jump. At Marysville, Conway was a career .586 hitter. She hit nearly .700 as a senior for the Indians while belting 10 home runs, 12 doubles and stealing 23 of 24 bases.

"You see those girls come through once every four or five years and just know that that girl is going to be something," Marysville assistant coach Jeff Bartolome said. "When she was on our team, she was almost like having another coach out there. She would take the time to talk to the younger girls, who all looked up to her, and explain to them here's how you field this ground ball in this situation or know your situations. ... It was like having another coach."

Conway has been exceptional this year in the field. She's currently ranked No. 8 in the Big 10 with a 1.000 fielding percentage. As of March 13, Conway has 34 putouts on 36 chances in center field with two outfield assists and zero errors.

Conway's prowess in the field is nothing new to Bartolome.

"I used to always say that water covers three-quarters of the Earth and Jenissa Conway covers the rest," he said. "She can track down any ball hit."

Tholl said Conway is just getting started at Michigan.

"Her ceiling is up with the stars. Every player works to refine their softball game but the difference with pure athletes, like Jenissa, is that her ceiling can exceed most others. Understanding the nuances of the game will come and that is when we will see Jenissa really separate herself on the field," Tholl said. "She is one exciting athlete and our role, as a coaching staff, is to help refine all of those raw skills that have All-American potential."

The conference season — which Conway and Michigan are competing in right now — is no joke in the Big 10. It's a 14-team gauntlet, and soon-to-be 18 with the addition of national power UCLA and Oregon, Washington and USC next spring.

Conway will be tested for the next three years but in the mind of many in Yuba County, she'll pass each one along the way.

"We all knew next-level Jenissa would be just as good as this-level Jenissa," Bartolome said. "You don't see that every year."