Villanova's Tess Cites Has Competitiveness In Her Blood
Villanova outfielder and 2023 Big East Player of the Year Tess Cites is no stranger to tough competition.
Cites comes from a sports family, and played sports with her two older sisters growing up. Her father, Jeffrey, played professional fastpitch and her mother is “the most competitive person (Cites) has ever met.” Her uncles, Scott and Eddie Gresky, played college football, while her cousin, David Gresky, played college baseball.
The Cites’ family game nights had to be “banned” due to rising tensions they created in the house. Cites recalls playing Clue with her family one night, and what ensued was quite memorable.
“We used to have family game nights, and those quickly got revoked because there were some hard feelings,” Cites said. “I remember a specific time we were playing Clue, my dad is very analytical, he’s a scientist, and he was making notes and charts about each character about who did what, and my mom was like, ‘You can’t do that, you’re cheating.’ And he was like, ‘No, I’m not.’ A whole argument (ensued), (and that was the) end of family game night.”
Growing up, not only did Cites play softball, but she also played soccer and basketball and ran cross country. Cites’ competitiveness also stems from playing wiffle ball, basketball and soccer with her sisters. Her backyard was where she learned how great it feels to win.
“I’ve always been brought up and fostered in this competitive environment, which makes competing that much more fun,” Cites said.
Throughout Cites’ softball career, she has used her competitiveness to contribute to many successful teams, including her club squads and Villanova's program. During her three collegiate seasons to date, the Wildcats have appeared in the Big East Championship all three years, winning the title in 2021 and 2022.
Prior to Villanova, Cites played for club teams that gave her opportunities to go up against some of the country’s top talent. She was a three-time national champion early in her club softball career and played in the Premier Girls Fastpitch (PGF) Championship twice. Cites would often travel out of her hometown of Horseheads, N.Y. with her parents to tournaments in California and Tennessee, among other states, to play club softball.
“Those travel teams definitely helped with (college) competition,” Cites said. “Seeing the best (competition) in the country is awesome because once you go to college, (the game) stays at the same pace. Those top travel teams made the transition a little bit easier.”
During the 2022 season, however, Cites was not comfortable with her mindset, and her offensive numbers reflected that. The then-sophomore hit .228 on the season with two home runs.
“Starting out, I was doing decently, but then I did not keep that same pace,” Cites said. “I definitely let my mental game and my emotions get the better of me last year.”
There were still positives that came out of the 2022 campaign for Cites, however, including winning the Big East Championship and being named to the Big East Championship All-Tournament Team. As she attacked last summer’s training, Cites developed a new mindset for going through struggles that involved trusting herself.
In 2023, Cites used her change of approach to break out, hitting .378 with seven home runs, 45 RBIs and a .470 on-base percentage. Cites led the Wildcats in many offensive categories, including RBIs, hits, runs and batting average, and earned First-Team All-Big East honors.
“I think so many times we get caught up in being so stressed out, worrying about x, y and z and not being able to control the controllables,” Cites said. “I think this year I really just let go and tried to relax and just have fun. I play best by being relaxed. Some of my best moments from this year, best hits, best plays, when I think back, I wasn’t really thinking, I was just reacting.”
Playing relaxed allowed Cites to elevate her game to an entirely different level, but there were physical improvements that went into her 2023 success on the field, too.
While developing her new way of thinking last summer, Cites was training with her dad, Jeffrey. The two of them would go out to a local field for four to five days a week and primarily focus on hitting and the mechanics of her swing.
“One of the most influential people in my love for softball is my dad,” Cites said. “Through going to the field with my dad and practicing, I found a good balance of fun and hard work.”
Cites’ individual improvements during her time at Villanova have been reflected by the program’s success. With a 37-22 record in 2023, the Wildcats are a team full of competitors with a will to win at everything they do.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” Cites said. “When the postseason comes around, (our team mindset is) zoning everything out and just focusing on one goal and one mission.”
Heading into her senior season, Cites has her eyes set on capturing another Big East Championship after her team finished as the conference's runner-up last year.
“I want to create that buy-in where everyone is bought into one mission and one statement,” Cites said. “(I want to) pick up where I left off and get better, but also be a leader on my team and help us achieve the goals we want to achieve.”