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Sports Person of the Week
Ayala Enjoys All-Conference Campaign
Jilien Ayala garnered All-SCC Second Team accolades as a junior for the East Haven softball squad this spring. Jilien mostly played left field, but made contributions at a few other positions, too. (Photo courtesy of Jilien Ayala)
As she walks through the hallways of East Haven High School, Jilien Ayala looks at the names of past softball players who have left a legacy with the Yellowjackets. On the heels of a strong 2021 season, Jilien is hoping that her name will be included up there among the Easties’ greats one day.
Jilien patrolled the outfield as a junior for the East Haven softball squad this spring. Jilien’s performance in the field and at the plate earned her a spot on the All-SCC Second Team.
Jilien started playing softball in West Haven Little League at age four. Jilien’s brother Alex was a baseball player, and his support encouraged her to give softball a shot. As soon as she started playing, Jilien began forming bonds and developing a passion for the sport.
“My brother played baseball. It made me want to play,” says Jilien. “We still throw today. He’s very supportive. He came to a lot of my games. I used to go to his. We just have a really close bond.”
Jilien started playing for the Connecticut Raiders travel team when she was 12. Jilien says that playing travel ball was one of the main things that helped her grow as a softball player. By experiencing a stronger level of competition, Jilien got a sense of how hard she would have to work in order to succeed in high school.
In addition to softball, Jilien was playing soccer and basketball prior to entering high school. However, as a freshman, Jilien decided to focus her energy on the diamond.
“Soccer and basketball were kind of a late thing. I wanted to use them for exercise and to get more active,” Jilien says. “Soccer was my second choice, but softball overpowered it all. I love everything about it, really. You have problems and go to softball, and they’re all gone.”
While she was now playing softball full-time, Jilien still had to undergo a position change once she reached the Yellowjackets. Jilien had grown up playing catcher, shortstop, and third base, but moved to left field in her freshman year, marking the first time that she had played the outfield. It was a difficult transition at first, although Jilien was willing to play wherever the Easties needed her to.
“It was definitely a big change and hard to adjust at first. But wherever the coach needed me, that’s where I went,” says Jilien. “I worked hard in the outfield in high school and on my own. It was a hard change, but overall, it was really helpful.”
Jilien spent her freshman season at the varsity level and became a starter during East Haven’s run to the Class L State Tournament final. Jilien quickly connected with her teammates, and she feels that those types of bonds helped the Yellowjackets maintain their success this year, when they advanced to the Class L semifinals.
“It has been a very good experience so far. It has been one of the best things,” Jilien says. “We have such a great bond. We work hard every day. We go out there and do as best as we could.”
Jilien’s sophomore season was canceled due to COVID-19. However, during that time, Jilien continued to work on her own in order to improve her swing and overall skillset. Jilien wanted to go into her junior year prepared to be a major contributor for the Yellowjackets.
Jilien’s hard work paid off when she was selected to the All-SCC Second Team this year. Jilien was surprised to receive that honor and cap off a season in which she felt happy to simply get back on the field with the Easties.
“That was something I definitely didn’t expect. But I just tried to work my best and keep going,” Jilien says of being named All-SCC. “Being back on the field was probably the best feeling ever. I really missed it. I missed all the girls. I came out there this year and thought I did pretty well.”
While Jilien’s primary position is left field, Head Coach Ed Crisafi has been impressed with the versatility that she’s shown during her time in the program. Crisafi says that Jilien always finds a way to contribute no matter where she’s suiting up for his club.
“Jilien has been a jack of all trades to our softball program since her freshman year. She played third base and then settled in to left field as a freshman,” says Crisafi. “Though we penciled her in as our everyday left fielder this year, Jilien filled in at third, short, and second when we needed her in emergency situations. She didn’t miss a beat.”
After looking up to Yellowjackets’ softball players of the past, Jilien wants future generations of players to see her name on the high school walls. With one more season to go at East Haven, Jilien is looking to finish her high school career by making All-State next year.
“I’ve looked up to East Haven softball since I was little. I couldn’t wait to be into high school. Now, it’s something I never expected, and it’s a lot better than I thought,” says Jilien. “The girls looked like heroes to me back then. Half of them have a name on banners in the high school. Hopefully, I can make that, too.”