Former Husker MJ Knighten named head softball coach at San Diego

A fast-rising coach with an All-American pedigree and program-building leadership abilities, MJ Knighten has been named the new head coach of San Diego softball, Associate Vice President/Executive Director of Athletics Bill McGillis announced on Friday. 
Mj Knighten
Courtesy: San Diego Athletics

From: San Diego Media Relations

SAN DIEGO — A fast-rising coach with an All-American pedigree and program-building leadership abilities, MJ Knighten has been named the new head coach of San Diego softball, Associate Vice President/Executive Director of Athletics Bill McGillis announced on Friday.

The sixth head coach in program history, Knighten is the first Black female head coach of any program at USD Athletics and the youngest active softball head coach in NCAA Division I. She was an assistant coach for the Toreros in 2019-20.

“I am so excited for the young women in our softball program,” said McGillis. “MJ Knighten is a special person and talent with rare leadership qualities for a young coach.  We’ve watched her grow over the last year as a member of our coaching staff, and I am very confident she is the right head coach to build a championship softball program at USD. MJ played a key role in resetting a new foundation for USD softball last year, and I want to remain on that trajectory. She has the trust and respect of our entire team because of who she is as a person and who she was as a player. She is a big-time winner and champion. Values, integrity, determination, passion, role model and so much more. MJ understands that we can be a force on the west coast and, in time, nationally.  Elite prospective scholar-athletes will want to play for this amazing woman and this emerging program. We will deliver on our promise of Winning in the Classroom, Winning on the Playing Field and Winning in the Community under Coach Knighten, and I could not be more excited for the future of Torero softball.”

A former All-American at Nebraska, Knighten will become a first-time head coach as she begins her fourth year in coaching. In addition to stops at her alma mater with the Huskers and Wichita State, Knighten’s rapid ascension in the coaching ranks comes after a successful year as an assistant with the Toreros last year, where she helped develop San Diego into an offensive power.

A native of Buena Park, Calif., Knighten also served as the head of recruiting for USD during her time as an assistant and helped sign 12 newcomers to the 2020 class, all of whom are set to join the Toreros this season.

“I would like to thank the University of San Diego and Bill McGillis for the amazing opportunity to lead this on-the-rise program,” said Knighten. “(Former USD head coach) Jessica Pistole gave us an incredible foundation to build on, and I am excited to continue to grow and shape San Diego softball. Our goal is to become a force on the west coast, while at the same time empowering strong, beautiful women so that they can succeed after graduation. I cannot wait to get started.”

In addition to notable stops in her coaching career, Knighten has a wealth of elite softball experience as a former All-American at Nebraska and player with the National Pro Fastpitch league. At Nebraska, Knighten rewrote the record books, ending her four-year career ranked in the top-10 in 10 different categories. She started 228 of 229 games at third base during her tenure, was named an NFCA All-American in 2016, and became the first four-time All-Big Ten selection in program history. Knighten helped guide the Huskers to three postseason appearances and a first place finish in the Big Ten in 2014.

After her stellar career at Nebraska, Knighten was selected 25th overall in the 2017 NPF Draft as a third baseman by the Scrap Yard Dawgs, who went on to win the NPF Championship later that summer.

Knighten played two seasons in the NPF and was an undergraduate assistant coach at Nebraska during the 2018 season before joining Wichita State as a graduate assistant for the 2019 campaign. Under head coach Kristi Bredbenner, she helped guide the Shockers to a 12-9 American Athletic Conference (AAC) record and a 2019 AAC Tournament semifinal appearance.

Following the one season with Wichita State, Knighten returned to her native Southern California in September 2019 to join the USD coaching staff under Pistole.

In her first and only season as an assistant with USD, Knighten guided San Diego hitters to rank 21st in the nation in doubles (43) in 2020 and helped senior Sara Silveyra to become the toughest hitter to strikeout in Division I.

The Toreros finished the abbreviated campaign 15-12, which was the program’s best start since 2013.

As a student-athlete, Knighten was a standout in the classroom and in her community. She became the first Senior CLASS Award finalist in Nebraska softball history and was recognized for her work in the classroom as an Academic All-Big Ten selection.

Knighten earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in broadcasting from Nebraska in 2017. She recently completed her Master’s of Education in Sports Management from Wichita State in May 2020.


Rhonda Revelle, Nebraska Head Coach –
“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. 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!”

Patty Gasso, Oklahoma Head Coach –
“The University of San Diego just hired a competitive, hardworking and determined softball coach in MJ Knighten. I’ve had the pleasure of following MJ’s career at the University of Nebraska and had the opportunity to work with MJ at our OU Softball Camps. She is a tremendous communicator, has knowledge and passion for the game, and will get the most out of athletes. She comes from a family of athletes who know about winning. MJ will be one of the up and coming head coaches in our game and I’m looking forward to following her career.”

Jessica Pistole, Southern Oregon and former San Diego Head Coach –
“I could not be more thrilled about the direction that USD Softball is headed under Coach Knighten’s leadership.  She is a fierce competitor who has a deep trust in the daily process of what it takes to become a champion.  Most notable though, she is a bright light who speaks the truth and possesses the superpower of connecting with and bringing out the best in each of her players and coaches.  Exciting days are ahead for USD Softball!”

Kirk Walker, UCLA Assistant Coach –
“MJ is a special young woman with a great softball pedigree. I wish USD and MJ the best and expect to see great things in the future.”

Categories: Husker Sports, Sports