'Tragic loss': America devastated as college athlete dies at 20

·5-min read
Pictured here, late James Madison University softball star Lauren Bernett.
The tragic death of James Madison University softball star Lauren Bernett has left the American college community devastated. Pic: Twitter

The American college sports community has been left heartbroken by another tragedy, after news that James Madison University (JMU) softball star Lauren Bernett has died at the age of 20.

Bernett was a sophomore from McDonald, Pennsylvania and an integral part of the JMU team that made it to the 2021 Women's College World Series.

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The school did not release a cause of death in its announcement.

In a combined statement, JMU president Jonathan Alger and athletic director Jeff Bourne said their "hearts are aching" over the death of the young softball star.

JMU described Bernett as "a high-achieving member of our softball team and a great ambassador of JMU and our athletics program".

"College athletics is great because of the people with whom we get to interact every day," a school statement read.

"We are a tight family. We are grateful that Lauren has been part of our JMU Athletics community and will always consider her to be a Duke. We will miss her dearly."

"Our thoughts are with her family; her coaches, teammates and friends; the rest of our department staff and student-athletes; and the entire JMU community. JMU Nation is a close community, and we grieve together."

Star pitcher Odicci Alexander posted to Twitter Tuesday morning that she was heartbroken about Bernett's death, with similar tributes flooding social media after the tragic news.

Bernett was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s player of the week on Monday. She was 7-of-9 at the plate with seven RBI and four runs as JMU swept Drexel over the weekend. Four of those hits went for extra bases.

She tied the school record for RBIs in a single game with seven on April 16. Bernett was hitting .336 in 107 at bats so far this season.

Bernett started 43 games as a freshman in 2021 and hit .235 with three homers and 10 RBIs. She had easily eclipsed those totals in 2022 with nine homers and 33 RBI while increasing her slugging percentage by 250 points.

US college sports rocked by another tragedy

It's the second tragedy to rock US college sports this month after the death of University of Wisconsin athletics star Sarah Shulze at the age of 21.

Shulze’s family announced the devastating news, saying she "took her own life" earlier in April.

“Balancing athletics, academics and the demands of everyday life overwhelmed her in a single, desperate moment," the family said in a statement.

"Like you, we are shocked and grief stricken while holding on tightly to all that Sarah was.

“Above all other things, Sarah was a power for good in the world.

"Her deep compassion was evident in her devotion to her sisters Abbey and Ella, the love her parents felt from her every single day, and the extra care she took in moments shared with her grandparents and cousins.”

University of Wisconsin athletics star Sarah Shulze died at the age of 21 in April. Image: University of Wisconsin/Twitter
University of Wisconsin athletics star Sarah Shulze died at the age of 21 in April. Image: University of Wisconsin/Twitter

Wisconsin officials also shared their devastation while paying tribute to Shulze.

“Sarah was a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend, teammate and Badger student-athlete,” the university said in a statement.

“We extend our deepest sympathies and sincere condolences to Sarah’s family, friends and Badger teammates during this extraordinarily difficult time.

"Our primary focus is the support of the Shulze family and our student-athletes.”

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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