At each of her previous two head coaching stops, Jenna Bane inherited programs that needed a total makeover. And while she was able to eventually get both Navasota and Caddo Mills headed in the right direction, she wanted to lead a program that wasn’t in need of a rebuild and was ready to win now.

That’s exactly what she found in June when she was named the head coach of the Abilene High softball program. The Lady Eagles have reached the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, missing only the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Former head coach Jim Reese, who retired last year, led the Eagles to three of those playoff appearances, including last season when the Eagles were stopped in the third round in a 2-1 series loss to Southlake Carroll. However, Bane watched that series and knew that if she had the opportunity to get the Abilene High job, this was the program she would be inheriting.

“The fact that I didn’t have to rebuild this program is one of the things that drew me to this job,” Bane said. “The girls in this program are awesome. They’ve been successful because they’re used to putting the work it takes to win. They do what they do, and I get to steer the ship. We don’t have to work a lot on fundamentals because they’re very sound in those fundamentals.

“The skill level in this program is unreal,” she said. “I watched last year’s playoff series against Southlake Carroll, so I knew what to expect. But getting here and even seeing how developed the junior varsity players are is very comforting.”

Not having to work as much on fundamentals and skill development with her team has allowed Bane more time to get to know her players on a more personal level. And that has carried over to the classroom where she teaches three sections of environment systems.

“I have a great schedule, and that’s allowed me to not only do my duties as a coach, but also as a teacher,” she said. “I have connections with different kids across campus, not just the student-athletes. At the smaller schools I was at before, my classes were filled with mostly athletes. Now, though, I’m being exposed to the entire population on this campus.

“My first three years in teaching were at a Title I school at Navasota,” Bane said. “It was really similar to Abilene High, but a smaller pool of kids. Growing up I worked at a youth club, which was very diverse, and I did after-school tumbling lessons with a lot of higher-income kids. I was talking about this with my mom recently about the difference in kids and I told her I honestly feel like I connect better with the kids who really need you. I like the diversity; I believe it’s my purpose here. My job is to help them. They need me just as much as I need them.

Bane said she figured that out at an early age.

“I learned that back in high school,” she said. “I would come home from working at the youth club and my heart was broken. Seeing what some of them were going through in their homes and thinking about the ways I could touch them and reach their lives was tough. When these kids know you love and care about them outside their talent and sport, that’s when you can build lifelong relationships with them.”