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Dare to Be Great: New Softball Season Begins Under New Coach Jessica Pistole

Sara Silveyra is the top returning offensive performer on the 2020 USD softball team.Jessica Pistole, first-year head coach at USD after a successful stint at the NAIA level for Southern Oregon University, will direct the Toreros in their first action of the season on Friday.

There is a joy about the University of San Diego's softball team. You can tell it by the way the Toreros swing the bat in the batting cage. The way they run the bases. By the constant positive chatter echoed from teammate to teammate. And make no mistake, it stems from first-year head coach Jessica Pistole.

"Oh my goodness, we love her," said senior second baseman Sara Silveyra, who earned All-West Coast Conference honors last year. "We respect her so much. She has shown us that we have everything we need just within us. We don't need anything else. A word that sums up what she has taught us is family, to be able to rely upon each other for anything."

Beginning Friday, the Toreros open the 2020 season with a five-game weekend tournament at UCLA.

After a career where she starred in the pitching circle and in the batter's box at Biola University (she batted .340 in her career and posted a 0.88 ERA), Pistole was named Biola's head coach at 22, the year after her senior season.

She coached the past five seasons at Southern Oregon, leading the Red Raiders to the NAIA World Series in 2017, '18 and '19. Southern Oregon won the national championship last season.

One of the things Pistole stresses upon her players is to not fear failure. Dare to be great.
 
"I don't want them to be afraid of anyone," said Pistole. "I want the group not to be afraid to step into box and strike out."

"Something she tells us is to embrace the unknown," said senior pitcher Delaney Heller. "She definitely has instilled that in us, just being aggressive overall. I've seen her instill that in all aspects of the game, pitching, hitting and especially base running. She wants us to be the most aggressive team anybody will face."

Five position starters and two experienced pitchers return from a team that posted a 20-29 record last season.

Silveyra led the team in batting average (.348), RBI (29), doubles (17), home runs (3) and slugging percentage (.551). Sophia Bjerk, who played primarily third base, hit .306 with 20 RBI. Catcher Madison Casiano is back, as are infielders Rion Simms (.218) and Kelli Kufta (.227).

In the circle, Heller has won 25 games in her career, including going 11-11 last season with a team-best 3.88 ERA. Sophomore Madison Earnshaw appeared in 25 games last season and recorded five wins. Other players who figure to pitch include left-hander Courtney Rose and Kelly O'Toole. Rose and O'Toole are freshmen. Hanna Boos is back after appearing in 13 games last season. She started 19 games in 2018, finishing with a 3.22 ERA.

"We have some diversity to our pitching staff," said Pistole.
 
When asked what draws her to softball and the first thing Pistole does is pull back the curtain and self-effacingly reveal something about herself.

Sitting in the first-base stands after practice on a cool afternoon this week, Pistole said, "If I'm honest, volleyball was my favorite sport."

Pistole was a two-sport athlete at Biola, playing volleyball and softball. It was in softball where she most excelled. She was named the GSAC Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and earned All-GSAC honors three times.

Of softball, she added, "It was my path."
 
No doubt it will feel that way when you're named a college head coach at 22. Players who just the season prior were Pistole's teammates were now taking directions from her.

"(Former) teammates and roommates and there were weddings. It was whack," said Pistole.
 
Despite initially being overwhelmed — "What do I do with these files? What does recruiting mean?" — Pistole thrived. Her vagabond coaching career took her from Biola to Williams Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif., where she started the program, to Utah State, to Twin Falls High in Idaho to Southern Oregon.

It was at Southern Oregon where Pistole put together a reign that moved USD Associate Vice President/Executive Director of Athletics Bill McGillis to reach out.

When asked what drew her to San Diego, Pistole said, "It was the people."
 
"When I came here I really felt a very welcoming community," she said. "It felt like a small school similar to where I was. It felt like it was something I knew, that was family. It felt like a place where there was a blank canvas to be able to create a program that would absolutely be a force on the West Coast and one we were all proud of."

Under Pistole's direction, Southern Oregon constructed a team that could hit. The team's batting improved each season: .307, .319, .323, .338 and .359. Three times the Red Raiders ranked in the top 10 in stolen bases.

"I am a big believer in team offense," said Pistole. "We're going to take advantage of taking any bases that we can. We're going to score from second base and from first base sometimes. We're not going to hit balls over the fence. We're going to square up on balls in the gaps."

Pistole's goals at USD, of course, go far beyond waving runners home from the third-base coach's box.
 
"I want to build a program where every person in the program doesn't have limitations on themselves," she said. "That we can accomplish what we set out to accomplish. We're going to work relentlessly hard to get there."

"First and foremost, to become a family that loves and trusts each other. I do think championships take care of themselves."
 
The Toreros have yet to play a game. There will be wins and there will be losses, and you get the feeling there will be lots of shared smiles.

"She's an amazing coach and an amazing person," Silveyra said of Pistole. "I'm glad I get to spend my last year with her. I wish it had been even longer."

— USD Athletics

Contact:

USD Athletics
(619) 260-4803