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MJ Knighten Embraces Historic Opportunity At San Diego

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(Photo by San Diego Athletics)

Patty Gasso has seen just about every situation imaginable in her tenure as a head softball coach, and for Division I softball’s youngest head coach, MJ Knighten, Gasso is the perfect resource.

“I’ve never played for her, but I’m constantly trying to learn and grow from her because she is one of the best and who I try to aspire to be like,” Knighten told Softball America in a phone interview. “I’m not afraid to ask questions, I’m not afraid to make that simple phone call. I’ve been doing that a lot lately since I’ve gotten this position.”

Knighten, 25, recently was named the sixth head coach in San Diego’s program history. Life has certainly changed quickly for the former Nebraska All-American. She never truly imagined a career in coaching, since her degree from Nebraska set her on a path toward being a color commentator or a news producer.

After she rejoined Nebraska in 2018 as an undergraduate assistant coach, her rise to a head coaching position began. The following season she was a graduate assistant for Wichita State before accepting an assistant job on Jessica Pistole’s staff at San Diego for the shortened 2020 season. Pistole made the decision to return to her former job at Southern Oregon, which created the vacancy filled by Knighten. And that’s when the calls started.

“I’ve turned to people for advice that aren’t in the softball world,” Knighten said. “I’m trying to be a sponge and humble myself because I am so young. That’s something I’ve definitely taken advantage of, reaching out, asking questions, even the smallest ones.”

Her time as a Cornhusker was filled with lessons she can transfer into her coaching career. One of the biggest things Knighten struggled with during her playing career was figuring out that she was more than just a softball player. She wants to teach her players and make sure they know that there is more to their lives than just the sport they play.

Knighten is also hoping to pass on the teachings she learned from Rhonda Revelle and her staff in Lincoln.

“The main thing they taught us and instilled in us at Nebraska was taking care of the little things,” Knighten said. “It’s a pride thing. Now that I’m here at USD, I will wear USD across my chest with so much pride and honor. We want to get to the big things like championships and getting to postseason, but if those little things aren’t adding up to the big picture, that’s when we don’t get to the places we want to be in the end.

“Taking care of little things, being there for everyone and one another, that’s what they instilled in me at Nebraska. That’s never left me.”

And Knighten's former coach has all the confidence in the world in her.

"We are so excited for MJ, as she has dedicated her life to this game, for this moment, and now she has this incredible opportunity with the University of San Diego to step in as the head coach,” Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle said in a statement. “MJ is a rising star in the coaching profession! Her softball resume speaks for itself, and as a person, her character and work ethic are A+.

"MJ has an incredible softball IQ. That, along with her passion and love for the game, will be motivating and inspiring for her players. With MJ at the helm, she will build a great team and culture, and the program will be highly competitive and accomplished on the field, in the classroom and also in the community. This is a great day to be a Torero!"

Knighten’s age isn’t the only thing about her that is historic. She is also the first Black woman head coach of any athletic program at San Diego.

“To be a Black woman in power is just knowing that you have all the tools, resources and the people in your corner to do that,” Knighten said. “I didn’t feel like I had the resources, but you do. It’s easy to think, ‘I’m Black, I don’t think I can do that.’ That shouldn’t stop anyone from striving to do that and people are going to try and put you down, that is a given.

“If you have confidence in what you believe in and what you value, I think that’s way more than anybody else can say about you. Once you know who you are as a person, that’s when you can make an impact on this world, whether that be as a head coach or a CEO of a company. As long as you stay true to your values, that’s when you can do bigger things.”

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