Athlete Spotlight: Ava Jahner

DICKINSON – Even before she took her first step into the pitching circle for Dickinson, Ava Jahner was prepared for that moment. The standout, who watched her older sisters play and have success for the Midgets’ softball program, was honing her own skills.  

A young Ava would often pitch to her dad on the sidelines during her sister’s games. 

 “When I started coaching the high school team back in 2015, I coached her two older sisters, Madi and Bailey, and every game home or away, it was the same thing,’’ said coach Amanda Mickey. “She would drag her dad off to the side play catch.”

All the time practicing on the sidelines instilled a strong work ethic that has carried over into her high school years. Jahner began playing varsity as a seventh grader and developed into one of the top all-around players in the state.

She is the workhorse for the Midgets’ pitching staff.  “I think being level-headed and trusting your defense behind you is a big part of it,’’ Ava said. “If you give up a hit or a run, you have to move on to the next batter.”

And that mental toughness was on full display in last season’s state championship game. Jahner allowed Minot Highs’ lead-off batter to score. Mickey recalls how Ava responded.

 “One pitch was all it took for them to score a run, but that would be the last time they score that game,’’ she said. I can remember exactly what Ava’s body language was like after that run scored. It was like that run never happened. From that next batter one there were not more mistakes. She pitched one of the best games of her life.”

Over the years Ava has worked to perfect her secondary pitches which have enabled her to change speeds and keep hitters off balance. She also has good command of the strike zone. And on the rare day when her best stuff is not there, she can still get outs by using her mental toughness and razor-sharp focus. 

Ava’s skill also extends in the batter’s box where she is a tough out. “The focus is getting the ball in play,’’ she said. “Being patient for your pitch and make the pitchers have to find the zone.”

The all-conference and all-state player may have a bit of an advantage over others at the plate given her time as a pitcher. “You can watch the pitcher’s release point and see what type of pitch is coming,’’ she said. “That definitely helps (at the plate).”

While her pitching and batting stats are impressive, Jahner is more focused on consistency in her play. “I don’t think too much about my stats,’’ she said. “I just want to be someone my teammates can count on.”

Dickinson is one of perennial powers in North Dakota softball, racking up wins and conference and state championships and developing talented players along the way.

“Every drill we do has a meaning behind it,’’ Ava said. “Our coaches work to challenge us every day. Coach Mickey tells us to embrace the pressure.”

And those high-leverage workouts, indeed, keep the players focus sharp.

“At times it seems like we are hammering down on them too hard, but we continuously remind them it’s out of love preparing them for big moments,’’ Mickey said. 

Every athlete wants the opportunity to play in the big moments. Ava and her teammates have played in many of them. The Midgets’ have been in the last three state championship games, winning two of them, including last season over Minot High.

The squad is hopeful another deep postseason run is in store this season. And with the opportunity to host this year’s state tournament; there is added incentive.

Jahner, who recently graduated from Dickinson Trinity, will have more softball ahead in her future. She will attend and play for her home college – Dickinson State University. 

“It’s exciting to know that I’m going to be home and playing for a great program,’’ she said.

Mickey, who was also a Blue Hawk, will be watching her development there as well. “Playing college sports is always something to be proud of,’’ she said. “I look back at my college career and I can honestly say the coaches, teammates and competition made me into the person I am today. And I want nothing more than for my girls to get that experience. I know it’s going to help shape them into powerful young women.”