Oklahoma nation’s Jilyen Poullard nearly gave up on softball; now she’s discovered a circle of relatives

Jilyen Poullard nonetheless feels like this isn’t actual life, as though she’s floating via a dream. Sitting in the foyer of the Oklahoma nation softball clubhouse, the senior outfielder exudes thankfulness. thankful for the possibility she turned into given to play at a national powerhouse. grateful of her newfound Cowgirl own family. thankful that she didn’t grasp up her cleats in the iciness of 2023, even when the educate at her former faculty, McNeese kingdom university, took the pleasure of the game from her. Poullard’s leadoff hitting, shielding athleticism and strength had been standards for the No. 2 Cowgirls in her lone season in Stillwater. She’s embraced the energizer-bunny function for a group that craved a spark. That spark was almost taken away by means of a grim tenure at McNeese, wherein she felt degraded by using a teach who nearly driven her to walk far from softball. “honestly, it took me years to recognize the distinction among blatant disrespect and coaching,” Poullard said. “… I still can’t consider it, due to the fact I never honestly saw myself making it away from there. And so as to be right here each day, it’s much like a completely new existence, and that i couldn’t probably be extra blessed.” Jilyen threw too rapid for three- or four-yr-old women. In wee ball, in which Jilyen performed shortstop and third base, maximum women her age couldn’t prepare for a ball to be fired across the diamond. “They might make her throw it to make it jump to the primary baseman in order that it would not come complete throttle immediately at a three or 4-yr-antique kid that’s trying to seize the ball,” stated Marcella Poullard, Jilyen’s mom. but it made sense; Jilyen grew up around softball fields. Her older sister, Braylynn Poullard Spikes, played, that means Jilyen spent her weekends at the ballpark, although she wasn’t on the sphere. And when Jilyen wasn’t grabbing interest on the diamond, she’d try to capture it someplace else — it became the younger sibling in her, continually wanting to stick out.
“all people’s there to watch the sport, however her and my youngest daughter desired every person to watch them play,” said Mister Edwards, one in every of Jilyen’s former travel ball coaches. “so that they have been in the stands, behind the dugout, below the dugout, on pinnacle of the dugout, doing some thing they could do to get as an awful lot interest as they may.”
This passed off a lot inside the Poullard house. Jilyen known as Poullard Spikes — the lowkey and four years older sister — the “angel infant,” who hardly ever got into hassle in comparison to her little sister. The family calls them polar opposites. It became difficult for Jilyen to analyze from Poullard Spikes’ mistakes because she made so few. So Jilyen “took a variety of the warmth” for the way she might “take a look at the boundaries,” Poullard Spikes stated.
“It become truly exciting to just watch her and, like, sort of live vicariously thru her,” Poullard Spikes said. “because i used to be in no way the only to do that. i used to be simply the secure one.”
From an early age, Jilyen’s competitive hearth turned into obvious.
Marcella coached her daughter in basketball — one of the many sports that Jilyen performed growing up — and remembers an 8-year-vintage Jilyen suffering to rationalize her mom’s guidance not to score late in a recreation with a forty-factor lead. She didn’t but draw close the idea of not embarrassing an opponent.
In time, even though, Jilyen’s kind coronary heart for others became as defining as her athleticism. Her father, Jeffery, calls Jilyen his “knucklehead,” who performs by way of her very own rules. however even as his daughter picked up sports “like a fish to water,” Jeffery said, she additionally lifted those who had been put down and never permit the ullied experience alone.
“She constantly took care of these people that she thought was either being mistreated or the ones humans that weren’t popular,” Marcella said. “She turned into a famous youngster in faculty, however all of her buddies, you’d be like, ‘Oh my God, she’s pals with them’? She just changed into that form of youngster. She just gravitated to human beings like she turned into a caregiver.”
however on occasion you need to be the demanding little sister. Jilyen lettered in basketball and softball all four years of high school, however her love changed into reserved for the latter. deciding on between the 2, once she became “brought right down to fact,” as she stated, turned into clean. This aligned together with her future plans. She became already committed to play softball at McNeese, which changed into the local school, best 12.five miles away from her place of origin of Moss Bluff, Louisiana. Jeffery played football at McNeese. Poullard Spikes attended McNeese. It became an clean preference and a clean recruitment, as her own family sifted through the frequently regional universities and landed on the one 17 mins away.
looking again now, Jilyen stated she become a “small-town child” with “tunnel imaginative and prescient” for the nearby program.
“I did not honestly understand anything outside of wherein i was from,” Jilyen stated. “And that provide changed into like the entirety to me and now not that it shouldn’t have been, however it was.
“…I wasn’t clearly wooed or wowed, however it was just sort of like, ‘Oh, this is wherein i am presupposed to pass.”
This was properly for her mother and father, who felt like Jilyen wasn’t mature enough to move a long way away. It allowed Marcella, a self-proclaimed mama undergo, to cook her a meal and tidy up Jilyen’s condominium if wished.
In hindsight, the selection could have been too smooth.
The Poullards heard doubts about McNeese from others. plenty of individuals who knew Jilyen didn’t necessarily want her going to the faculty proper down the street, as she have been playing in the area all her existence however hadn’t received interest from McNeese until she attended a camp in excessive school while she became offered.
“human beings were speakme approximately the coach, and that they had been talking approximately this and that, and that i’m like, ‘nicely, till you enjoy it for your self, you’re no longer going to know if this is your story,’” Marcella stated. by the point Jilyen were given round to the Instagram direct message, it changed into three weeks vintage. Madysin Girouard remembers the embarrassment of seeing Jilyen in magnificence for those 3 weeks.
Girouard, Jilyen’s now-female friend for greater than 3 years, had a communications magnificence at McNeese with Jilyen, who has no concept why she become in that magnificence looking back; it’s the best communications path she’s ever taken. Girouard knew Jilyen become an athlete and changed into taken by way of her self assurance.
It become one of these dreadful 8 a.m. lessons, in particular for a pupil-athlete (which both have been; Girouard played football). Jilyen would rush there after morning weights and a shower, often pulling a hood over her head inside the returned of the class even as looking to get thru the morning. Jilyen wasn’t searching out absolutely everyone, however the two kept searching at every other, catching every different’s eye — like inside the movies — but she didn’t suppose much of it till she noticed the DM.
“It become a chunk awkward, going to elegance and form of being like, ‘Oh my goodness, i ponder if she certainly read the DM, like that’s virtually embarrassing,’” Girouard stated.
The embarrassment didn’t final. After a midweek game, Jilyen messaged Girouard again, telling her that she’d be returned in Lake Charles, Louisiana, around 1 a.m. if she wanted to satisfy.
Girouard popular, and the 2 met up at Jilyen’s region and talked. And talked. And talked. They talked the whole night time like that they had already acknowledged every other, as verbal exchange subsequently bled over to Girouard’s morning shift at CC’s espresso residence. Her shift started at four:30, and that they talked until the closing minute she should leave. “We talk about this all of the time — we knew every other in a past existence,” Jilyen stated. “The way that we just hit it off and simply felt like we’d regarded each other earlier than, that’s simply sort of the sensation.”
On the field, Jilyen redshirted after 16 video games her freshman yr because of the COVID-19 pandemic. the subsequent season — nonetheless a freshman — she played in 59 games and earned second-team All-Southland convention honors with extraordinary runs, hits and stolen base totals. In her sophomore season, she have become the megastar, main McNeese in nearly every statistical class and starting in all 56 games en direction to first-team All-Southland convention honors.
Jilyen changed into identifying who she became on and stale the sphere her first couple of years at McNeese. After setting up herself as one of the top players in the Southland convention, she became primed for an super junior yr. till she couldn’t take it any longer. Her knees didn’t move high sufficient, as she recalls him announcing. He, in the meantime, doesn’t keep in mind that.
James Landreneau, Jilyen’s teach at McNeese, kicked her out of form someday for not elevating her knees high enough at the same time as jogging throughout warmups. In a assembly the following day, Jilyen said she added this up to him, soliciting for an explanation of the incident, and he advised her he had no memory of it occurring.
Landreneau advised Jilyen “I simply blacked out, and that i don’t even recognise what was taking place,” she stated, including that Landreneau instructed her, “permit’s simply keep this between me and also you.”
Jilyen felt constantly manipulated, she said, during her time at McNeese. She and Landreneau didn’t get along “from Day 1,” she said, and she or he struggled to determine out why “the vibe turned into type of off.” She said Landreneau instructed her, “You’re who all people looks as much as, so I may be tougher on you.” Jilyen calls it “the scapegoat of ‘you are the example.’” “And over time and as I were given older and as I just started out to realize, ‘good enough, I remember the fact that i am like a person who people look to and all that, but there may be a positive line that wishes to be drawn because I sense like i’m simply your punching bag to a certain quantity,’” Jilyen stated.
As Jilyen grew older and confronted Landreneau greater in public and closed-door settings, she stated, she fought towards remedy that endured to extend, which she said got here with gaining knowledge of her.
In her eyes, Landreneau’s application changed into run with him usually being validated, regardless of how unpleasant the remark or how blatantly disrespectful she felt it turned into. hard coaching is one component, however she felt find it irresistible became more than that. “He almost attempts to make it seem like those matters are interchangeable or the equal component,” Jilyen stated. “And so I genuinely assume a number of those girls see it, however they have been additionally sort of much like, ‘Oh, well, it truly is just how he’s,’ or type of making excuses for his movements, which is not our process, and that’s just type of how his program is ran.”
In her junior season, Jilyen regarded in nine of 11 video games. She hit game-winning home runs in of her final 3 video games, which never were given her a pat at the back, she stated, and he or she had in the end been worn down after years of feeling so small.
Jilyen said she tried to set up a assembly with Landreneau after he “blew up” on her in front of all of us. She wasn’t in an amazing place and wanted to talk with him earlier than a Friday sport towards Stephen F. Austin. She reached out on that Wednesday, and he couldn’t installation a meeting. identical thing for Thursday. Then Friday got here round. “i used to be like, ‘I want to meet with you earlier than this recreation. i’m now not good enough. we’re no longer ok. We need to talk,’” Jilyen said.
Landreneau advised her to meet in his office at noon, Jilyen said. She become there at midday. Then she waited and eventually left at 1:30, she stated, because she needed to move home to get geared up for the sport. when she became almost domestic, he texted her and told her to return to his workplace, that is whilst she met with him.
“finally, the meeting got here, and there was simply 0 accountability he changed into taking for his moves, and he said some thing approximately, ‘We don’t want you right here’ or ‘You don’t have to be here’ or something like that, and i was like, ‘adequate, appropriate, due to the fact i am not gonna be right here any further,” she stated.
She referred to as Marcella, who had planned to attend the game with Poullard Spikes, and instructed her the news. Her family had no idea what she changed into going thru. They noticed the harsh coaching, and as a former athlete, Jeffery should remember that.
“some of the things that I noticed as a determine, as a father, I did not trust, but being an athlete, I understand training, and so I recognize that there may be a stage of admire that has to be had because it pertains to coaches in how they do matters…,” he said. “however it become me being blind to everything that turned into genuinely occurring, and i consider that she did that for a cause. She covered me inside the manner of the whole thing that she had gone through due to the fact there was a few things that she failed to need me to recognize.”
Jilyen didn’t regret leaving the crew, however she felt bad for her teammates, which is why she sent them an extended message after the sport explaining the scenario. She had to attend to herself. and that they didn’t blame her. each person saw it show up. McNeese’s sports communications department did now not respond to The O’Colly’s requests to interview Landreneau or for the department to provide a announcement on Jilyen’s transfer.
After Jilyen’s departure from the group, Landreneau told reporters that during their meeting, he and Jilyen “agreed to disagree on a few matters” before she left the crew. He declined similarly questions regarding her leaving.
After Jilyen left the group, she and Girouard went to The Bekery, their preferred coffee keep in Lake Charles. Jilyen felt mild. She felt free.
“It changed into the exceptional time of my lifestyles,” she stated.
She didn’t want to talk approximately softball; she turned into ready to present it up. however a day or after, Girouard delivered up the concept of shifting. Jilyen had never entertained the thought; she stated “it wasn’t popular” at McNeese, but her girlfriend idea it’d be an amazing concept. So Girouard made an Excel sheet with all the energy 5 faculties, ranking them from the largest softball programs to the smallest.
“once I saw those names, i was like, ‘there may be no way. let’s just put smaller-scale schools down, like, allow’s pipe down. I don’t recognise about that. I don’t know if that’s practical,” Jilyen said. “And (Girouard) was like, ‘No, you can do it.’”
After some days, Jilyen built up the braveness to start achieving out to the program contacts that Girouard had determined. schools started to make contact, and then, at some point, whilst Jilyen become leaving the fitness center, she were given a phone call from Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“I only know one college in Stillwater,” she stated with a laugh. “I picked it up on the second one ring. i was like, ‘whats up.’ And it became him, to my marvel, and he (OSU coach Kenny Gajewski) was like, ‘Jilyen! What’s up? It’s instruct G.’” whilst she made it returned to her seven hundred-rectangular-foot condominium, she confirmed Girouard the cellphone, and the 2 started jumping for pleasure.
Gajewski and Jilyen talked once more after that initial telephone name earlier than he booked a flight for her and Girouard to go to Stillwater. Jilyen was sold. She devoted to OSU the identical weekend.
Gajewski advised Marcella he was peeling lower back the layers of Jilyen — he became beginning a dating with a brand new companion.
but he assured the Poullard circle of relatives no longer to worry.
“He simply surely took care of her from the primary day on,” Marcella said. “He’s a definitely authentic guy, and that i just love him.”
And Gajewski loves Jilyen, too, as seen within the smile he wears while he talks about her or when she rounds 1/3 base after a large play — just like the three-run domestic run in Bedlam she hit to at ease OSU’s first series victory given that 1997. Her electricity is undeniably contagious.
“in case you follow this group and you haven’t seen that, you’ve got missed the entire story,” Gajewski stated. “As she’s gotten going, I suppose she is the spark that this group has been waiting for the entire 12 months.” Her ardour for softball and competitive fireplace in no way wavered — she still cries after dropping every so often, even though she’s “gotten lots higher,” however now she’s observed a domestic. an area wherein she receives love, no longer mistreatment disguised as tough love.
and she’s competing at the very best degree, all even as floating via a dream.
“I noticed a comment on social media the other day; it form of made my coronary heart drop,” Marcella said. “3-three-seven is our region code for Louisiana, and someone said, ‘The whole 337 is at the back of you; you are a legend.’”

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