ALBIA – They were just 7 years old when Jena Lawrence first threw a softball to Alex Beard.
Over the past decade, Lawrence and Beard have grown up together forming one of the best battery combinations in the state. Fittingly, the longtime Albia teammates celebrated together after signing their National Letters of Intent to play college softball next season.
Lawrence signed her letter of intent with Creighton University in Omaha, one day after Beard signed her letter to play at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa. The two have been behind the plate and in the pitching circle competing for state championships as both little leaguers in Monroe County and over the past three seasons of high school softball with the Lady Dees.
“It’s kind of crazy how far we’ve come and that we’re finally here as seniors finally getting ready to go off to college,” Lawrence said. “It’s not that I’m nervous. It’s more of an exciting feeling. I’m proud of Bean and I’m proud of myself, but it is a little weird. It feels like just yesterday we were playing All-Stars up in Burlington competing for a state Little League title.
“We’ve been together since the beginning with each other. To see our hard work pay off is really rewarding,” Beard added. “It makes me feel good. I’m so proud of Jena. She’s going big places. I’m also proud of myself for working hard these past few years to get where I am today. I’m really excited for that next chapter in my life.”
With still one season left to go, Lawrence and Beard have already left their mark on the history of Albia softball. The teammates were battery mates part of the 2014 Monroe County Little League squad that not only won the Iowa state championship, but made a dramatic run in the Central Regional Tournament coming within one win of qualifying for the Little League World Series before being edged, 4-1, by Ohio state champion Tallmadge.
During that tournament, Lawrence pitched a one-hit shutout with six strikeouts in a 4-0 upset of top-seeded Illinois state champion Melrose Park. Beard joined current Albia senior teammates Kennedy Schroeder and Abby Martin in driving in a run in that early postseason signature win. Over the past six years, the duo have played in five different state softball tournaments playing in the championship game three times.
Both are the first to admit they couldn’t have made it this far without each other.
“Alex makes me look so much better most of the time,” Lawrence said. “Since I’ve know Alex for so long, and we’re best friends off the field, we have that sixth sense knowing what’s going on with each other. Alex knows me in and out. She knows when I’m having a good day and when I’m having a bad day. It’s good having that bond that carries off the field as well as on the field.
“Playing for Jena has meant everything for me. She’s one of my best friends. Having that connection is so rewarding when we both succeed,” Beard added. “We work really well together and it’s been so much fun. We joke all the time. Even when Jena isn’t doing the greatest, I can go out there and encourage her. We make each other better. That’s something I’m going to miss over the next couple of years, but hopefully that’s something we can find in other teammates.”
Lindsay Diehl signed Beard on Tuesday as the second-year head coach of the IHCC softball program continues to bring in top talent from around the state to help the Warriors continue to contend for an NJCAA national championship. Before coaching the Warriors, Diehl saw Beard and Lawrence emerge on the high school scene as the head coach of Albia’s South Central Conference rival, Clarke High School.
“When Alex and Jena were eighth graders, all I could think was that I would have to put up with them for five years,” Diehl joked. “Jena used to get pitching lessons in Osceola with Alex and I’d be watching them in the next lane over from my Clarke kids. They’re both just great ball players. You could see that from day one.
“They made a statement that first year together (making it to the 3A regional finals) and have only gotten better. They knocked us off as the conference champions. They come from a tradition of wanting to win. I know they both want to win a state championship before this is all over. That’s the mindset you want out of kids. You want players that want to go win. I’m excited for both of them to go on and have the chance to play this game at the next level.”