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A striking opportunity

5/10/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Jenna Lang's mom said her youngest daughter has had the luck of being in the right place at the right time the past several years.

Now a freshman in college, Lang said part of her success has to be attributed to family support.

Lang -- who excelled in three sports, and even won a state championship in basketball, at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School in Hays -- hopes family members will get to witness more success this weekend.

She is a member of the record-setting Fort Hays State University softball team, which hosts the NCAA Division II Central Region Championships beginning today at Tiger Stadium.

In the stands, weather permitting, will be three of Lang's grandparents who are in their 80s and 90s.

Clarence Lang, 94, and his 89-year-old wife, Melinda, of Hays have been cheering on their granddaughter from the stands for years. Alberta Knieling of Ellis hasn't been able to make as many of Lang's games in person but follows her teams nonetheless.

"She always reads about me in the paper and keeps up with me that way," Lang said of Knieling, 85.

That trio -- along with Lang's parents, Terry and Ruth Lang, and her older twin siblings, Brock and Brittany Lang -- have been helping Lang live out a dream-come-true this season.

After helping TMP finish third at state her freshman year, then qualify for the season finale her sophomore season, Lang was disappointed when the Monarchs didn't have enough players to field softball teams her junior and senior years.

Lang, also a member of the Monarchs' state championship basketball team her sophomore year, wanted to keep busy in those spring seasons so she went out for track, eventually setting the school record in the javelin throw.

But softball still owned her heart.

"I always wanted to play softball in college; that's my favorite (sport)," Lang said. "Then when we didn't even have it my last two years ... I thought it would be great to play at Fort Hays, but I also knew that was a big step, especially not having played for two years."

A former high school teammate came to the rescue.

Maddie Holub, a senior standout on the Monarch softball team Lang's freshman year at TMP, was preparing last summer for her senior season at Fort Hays.

"She told me to come work out with her, and we went to the field two or three times a week," Lang said. "I owe Maddie Holub a lot."

FHSU Coach Erin Kinberger watched some of those workouts and was impressed enough by what she saw to ask Lang if she would like to be part of the team.

Lang joined the Tiger squad as a walk-on, but her progress on the field has been more like a gallop.

Lang, who started the season as a base runner, then a designated hitter, has worked her way into the starting lineup in right field.

And she will have plenty of people cheering her on in the Tigers' first regional game at 5:30 p.m. today versus Emporia State University.

"It means a lot to me," Lang said of her strong family support.

The winner of this weekend's tourney advances to next weekend's Super Regionals, and that winner moves on to nationals. And Lang is hoping her family has to make plans to attend a lot more softball games yet this spring.