It would have been all too easy for Tooele senior Alexis Bender to get frustrated with the way her first couple years in the THS softball program unfolded.
While she was part of one of Utah’s premier high school softball programs, the Buffaloes’ devastating depth left her unable to crack the varsity lineup, forcing her to ply her trade on the freshman and sophomore teams. Her preferred position of pitcher has been occupied by one of the state’s best, junior Attlyn Johnston, for the past two seasons.
But, according to her coach, Marissa Lowry, Bender has never allowed herself to get discouraged, and that dedication and perserverance paid off in a big way Wednesday night. In front of an impressive collection of friends, family and coaches at Tooele High, Bender put pen to paper as she signed a national Letter-of-Intent to play college softball at Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas.
“I actually got to play for the (Colby) team and I really liked it,” Bender said. “The girls were nice, the coaches were so amazing, and my brother had actually signed to Ottawa, Kansas. When we were dropping him off, I decided to look at the school. I really liked the school, I liked the people there and so I was like, ‘this is the school I want to go to.’ So, here we are.”
Lowry was thrilled for Bender’s opportunity to play at the next level.
“I think it definitely says a lot about our program, that we develop players and try to send them off to the next level,” Lowry said. “Lexi works really hard. It’s fun to see that all of her hard work is starting to pay off. For her to work her way up and to get where she’s at, and to see some innings for us, it’s big for our program.
“Lexi has definitely bought into our system from Day One. She’s a player that you want on your team. She’s one that listens to you; she’s one that will go above and beyond to meet the expectations of the coaches. She never gave up. She was always one to ask what she could do next, what she could do better or what she needed to do next year to make the JV or varsity roster.”
Bender hopes to play first base and outfield in addition to pitching for the Trojans next season. She is looking to study elementary education, and has also expressed an interest in cosmetology.
“I’m looking forward to making new friends and getting to experience being out on my own,” she said. “The coaches (at Tooele) are so amazing, and the girls — they’ve really helped me out, and we help each other out. It’s just amazing.
“I couldn’t do this without my family, without my friends and the coaches. They’ve been a huge part of my life and they’ve helped me a lot. They’ve taught me a lot of life lessons and I couldn’t do it without them. I love them so much.”
Bender saw limited playing time during her junior season for the Buffaloes, making a pair of appearances in wins over Ben Lomond and Park City. Lowry said Bender will have an increased role this season as Tooele looks to defend its Class 4A state championship, allowing the Buffs to keep teams off-balance.
“Lexi is a completely different pitcher from (Johnston),” Lowry said. “What Lexi brings to the table helps Attlyn with her pitches because it’s so different. Going into Lexi’s senior season, she knows her role and what her expectations are, and she’s really going to help our program potentially reach our end goal.”
Lowry, a former Division I college softball player at the University of Utah, said there is one thing that sets college players apart from everyday high school players — and Bender has it in bunches.
“It’s your work ethic,” Lowry said. “You definitely have to have the mindset that every day, you’re going to get better. It doesn’t stop when practice is over, and I definitely thing Lexi has that mindset. She’s hungry, she’s ready to be better and that’s why she’s where she’s at. She never accepted ‘no.’ She’s that player who’s always willing to get better.”