Presley Jantzi hit .543 as a sophomore, making the 5A first team as a utility player. (Photo by Leon Neuschwander)
Presley Jantzi hit .543 as a sophomore, making the 5A first team as a utility player. (Photo by Leon Neuschwander)

As good as Presley Jantzi was for West Albany's softball team as a freshman and sophomore, her transformation into a left-handed hitter – which she began in the seventh grade – was still very much a work in progress.

“My freshman year, when I would step in the box, I was still afraid,” Jantzi said. “Swinging away wasn't a part of my game quite yet.”

Now, as the senior outfielder prepares for her final season before starting a college career at Montana, Jantzi not only has added some power to her game, but she has become a deep-ball threat similar to her sister, Kennedy, who hit 14 home runs in a season for West Albany.

“She's 100 percent my biggest role model because she can hit home runs so far,” Presley said of Kennedy, who hit 26 home runs for Mt. Hood Community College in 2019 and now is a senior on the team at Oregon Tech. “I've always wanted to be like her.”

West Albany coach Ryan Borde said that the 5-foot-5 Presley already was a “true three-tool player” at the plate, but now has become even more dangerous.

“She's added a fourth tool, in my opinion,” Borde said. “She's done a lot of personal training and gotten bigger. If we had a full 28- or 30-game season, I would definitely see 12 to 15 home runs out of her.”

Presley – who hit four home runs as a sophomore after not hitting one as a freshman -- said she was aiming to surpass Kennedy's 14 home runs this year, but with a short season, it appears well out of reach.

“I tell her, 'You're lucky,'” Presley said.

Presley was the leadoff hitter for West Albany conference-title teams in 2018 and 2019. She batted .446 as a freshman and hit .543 with a .630 on-base percentage as a sophomore, making the 5A first team as a utility player. In two seasons, she scored 96 runs and stole 32 bases in 33 attempts.

The speedy Jantzi was looking to display her new-found power as a junior for the Bulldogs, 5A semifinalists in 2019, before the season was wiped out by the COVID-19 crisis.

“I was real excited,” she said. “I was planning on spending the time mostly swinging away and hitting some home runs, balls in the gaps. I was looking to use a lot more power and hopefully score some girls from the bottom of the lineup.”

Borde said Jantzi's improved power was evident in practices last spring.

“The ball was popping off her bat big-time,” he said. “It's definitely the same this year, even more, because she's had another full year to work with her trainer.”

The pandemic also threw a wrench into the college recruiting process, cutting the schedule for her travel ball team, the Northwest Bullets. She played in four out-of-state tournaments with the Bullets in the summer.

“Once COVID hit, recruiting became real hard because the coaches didn't come watch you during the summer anymore, specifically D-I,” Jantzi said. “My dream was always to go D-I, so getting that exposure was really tough.”

Montana and Portland State still showed serious interest, though.

“It came down to, 'Do I want to experience something out of the state of Oregon or stay close to home?'” she said. “Once I started to get more in contact with Montana, it became an easy decision because I just love the coaches, and I was willing to move.”

Jantzi committed to Montana after having a virtual visit. She signed a letter of intent in November.

“I never got to see the campus or anything, just kind of like a drone tour,” she said. “So I kind of went in blind.”

Borde, who spent eight years as a sports information director for college softball programs at Washington and Portland State, believes Montana is getting a steal with Jantzi.

“I personally feel that she's been overlooked,” Borde said. “She's definitely a Big Sky player. There's no question in my mind she'll do very well in college softball, especially at the Big Sky level. I could see her going to Montana and competing for a starting spot from Day One.”

Jantzi has played outfield, infield and pitched at West Albany.

“She's definitely a true utility player,” Borde said. “When I say she's got great speed, that's an understatement. She has tremendous speed. She can cover a ton of ground in the outfield. I personally think she's a natural center fielder.”

Jantzi plays center field for the Bullets.

“I can play anywhere in the outfield,” she said. “That's where I'm most comfortable, because I can utilize my speed out there in tracking the ball down. Specifically center field, because I like to be in charge. When I see the ball, I want to go get it. I like to talk with my right fielder and left fielder, communicate with them. I'm a talkative player.”

The affable Jantzi, known as the team jokester, has a knack for diffusing pressure situations with her sense of humor. Her leadership will be key this year if the Bulldogs get a chance to chase after a state championship.

“I think we had a shot at the state title last year, and I'm hoping to get to the playoffs this year, because I think we do again,” she said.