Knighten’s quick rise in coaching reaches historic role
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Three years ago, MJ Knighten was finishing up a record-setting college softball career at Nebraska. Now, she’s coaching a Division-I program. Knighten’s quick rise has reached a historic role, as she’s the youngest head coach in Division-I softball. The 25-year old was hired on August 28th at the University of San Diego, where she served as an assistant last season.
“Keeping breaking those walls and breaking those barriers,” Knighten said. “You never know what’s on the other side. Right now, I’m in the best position I could possibly be in.”
Knighten is the first female African-American head coach in the history of USD athletics. The California native says she wants to build a diversity roster with the Toreros, which currently has only one African-American player. Over the summer, Knighten has led the team in a series of discussions regarding social injustice.
“Yes, we want to win, but having those diverse groups can do so much for people,” Knighten said. “We just talk and understand how to talk to people about race. We have to step out and be uncomfortable a little bit to at least get some type of change. Or at least plant the seed in someone to think about changing their perspective about everything.”
At Nebraska, Knighten was a record-setting third baseman. In 2016, she was named an All-American. Over her career, Knighten amassed 253 hits and 41 home runs. She’s the Huskers' only 4-time All-American.
Following her college career, Knighten briefly played professional softball. In 2019, she joined the USD staff upon the recommendation of Nebraska head coach Rhonda Revelle. Knighten says Revelle encouraged her to apply for the Toreros' head coaching position when it opened three months ago.
“I’m a very energetic person,” Knighten said. “I love to have fun as well, and get down to business.”
Knighten studied broadcasting at the University of Nebraska and initially wanted to pursue a career in sports reporting. However, her professional aspirations changed while working at a youth camp in 2017.
“After that camp was over,” Knighten said, “one girl came up to me and said ‘You impacted my whole day. You made me change my whole perspective on this game.’ Right then and there, I was like ‘Okay, this is what I want to do.’”
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