A deeper look at the San Juan High School baseball team with Head Coach Jens Nielson
The San Juan High School baseball team entered the week of April 5 with a 2-7 overall record and were 0-3 in 3A Region 12. Their only wins so far this season came against Monticello on March 9 and 25.
The Broncos have definitely taken their lumps through the first half of the 2021 season, but as second-year head coach Jens Nielson said, “the potential is there.”
Technically it’s Nielson’s third year coaching San Juan baseball, but since the entire season was lost to COVID-19 in 2020, we’ll call it his second year officially.
Speaking about the team’s struggles so far this season, Nielson explained, “Our team is very young, and our inexperience is showing a little.
“These players all missed an entire year of baseball where the teams in [other areas of the state] were able to play some summer ball. That missed year of growth and learning has played a role in some of our struggles.”
But Nielson also said that the four San Juan seniors along with the younger players have all exceeded coaches’ expectations, and they are pleased.
“There are a lot of positives on this team,” stated Nielson. “It’s a good group that works together, they communicate, they come out ready to play.
“We’ve seen a lot of things…kids stepping up and hitting the ball. Though we’ve had our struggles, [strong play on] the defensive side has been a good surprise for us.
Nielson is purposeful in his coaching approach and his coaching philosophy comes from a place of patient wisdom. The direction he and his assistants are heading speaks for itself.
He explained, “One of the basic things that makes a good team is the players’ ability to understand the game. So we’ve been having a lot of discussions on situations and trying to help them understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
“You don’t just go up and swing the bat; you have to know the situation. You don’t always swing for the fence; you have to shorten up when you’re supposed to.
“We also focus a lot on the mental approach, that you have to learn how to engage yourself in the game, especially baseball.
“Baseball is slower. It’s not football or basketball where you can run full speed and go hit someone or go steal the ball or play great defense.
“You have to stay mentally focused the whole game in order to make plays. So [we’ve had] lots of discussion on the mental aspect of the game also, being positive and resetting. If you make a mistake, you can’t change it; move on and make the next play.
“We’re also teaching [the players] to understanding their individual roles on the team. Not everyone is going to be the best hitter, play shortstop, or pitch. We want them to embrace their roles and be ready to be called upon when the time’s needed.
“We feel the best way to get something is through muscle memory, so we’re doing a lot of reps – the same things over and over and over again no matter how boring they get.
This philosophy, coupled with a coachable group of athletes, has coach Nielson thinking he’s working toward something positive for the San Juan High School baseball program.
“I’ve always felt if the players are taught correctly and are willing to learn that they can be a good team,” he said. “I think we’re underplaying at this point; I think we can be better.
“This is definitely a good group and they’re moldable,” Nielson explained. “I don’t feel any resistance from them. They respect the coaching staff. They listen, they work hard, and they try to apply the things that we’re teaching them.”
Coach Nielson said he’s impressed with his players’ ability to learn quickly. He said it’s been one of the main strengths of the team thus far.
The team has also played well defensively. “Players have stepped up to play positions they’ve never played before and they’ve done a really good job,” he explained.
Nielson added, “Their willingness to come in and work hard and learn the game is probably their biggest strength right now.”
Two of the main goals the team is working toward accomplishing in the second half of the season is to be more patient at the plate and reducing the number of walks by the pitching staff. “If we do that,” he said, “we’re right there in any game.”
Regardless of the standings at the end of the season, Coach Nielson has a firm idea of what a good 2021 season for San Juan baseball will look like.
“I’ll know that we’ve been successful this season if those kids come out and they knew they gave everything and they feel good about it,” he said.
The Broncos have their hands full this week with a couple Region 12 games against Carbon, at home on Tuesday, March 6 and in Price Friday, March 9.
Coming into the week the Dinos were 8-4 on the year and 2-0, ranked second in region play. The Deseret News ranked them #5 among 3A baseball teams at the start of the week.
The first official Utah High School Activities Association baseball RPI standings will be released on Wednesday, March 7, too late for our press deadline.