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Pistole returns to lead SOU softball program

ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University’s national softball title defense will include Jessica Pistole after all. Ten months following her departure for NCAA Division I program University of San Diego, the 2019 NAIA Coach of the Year is coming home, SOU Director of Athletics Matt Sayre announced Sunday.

Pistole previously guided SOU for five seasons starting in 2015. The Raiders closed her initial stint with three consecutive NAIA World Series appearances, the first in team history, and punctuated a captivating 2019 run with their first national championship on top of a 52-8 record.

In one abbreviated season as head coach at USD, Pistole’s Toreros went 15-12. The Raiders, meanwhile, were 23-3 and maintained to the NAIA’s No. 1 ranking under interim head coach Mike Mayben, who had been an assistant on Pistole’s staff for two seasons.

“SOU and Ashland are home to our family,” Pistole said. “When the season ended and we had a chance to step back from softball, we realized this is where the many pieces of family life and coaching work for us. As the conversations unfolded and the opportunity was presented, it felt like the right move to make. We have so much gratitude to coach Mayben, Matt Sayre and (SOU President) Dr. Linda Schott for such support in welcoming us back.”

Pistole informed both teams of her decision Sunday evening. She was offered the position in March, prior to SOU’s ongoing hiring freeze, but COVID-19-related issues delayed the announcement until now.

“As pleased as we are to have our national championship-winning coach Jessica Pistole back with SOU, we are equally grateful to coach Mike Mayben for his stewardship of the program in her stead,” Sayre said. “He is a great coach, and to have his 100 percent buy-in on Jess’s return — and commitment to remain with the program as one of her assistant coaches — is a huge testament to his character and selflessness. Our softball team and athletic department couldn’t be more fortunate with Jess’s return and coach Mayben’s continuity.”

Pistole has compiled a 219-82 record at SOU, making her the program’s winningest coach. Under her watch, the Raiders set school records for victories three years in a row, won three Cascade Conference regular-season titles and added three CCC Tournament titles. The season prior to her arrival, they went 15-23.

In addition to garnering the top national coaching honor, Pistole was named the inaugural CCC Coach of Character in 2019. The former Biola University (Calif.) softball and volleyball star — who has also been a head coach at her alma mater and William Jessup University (Calif.) — is a three-time CCC Coach of the Year, and on the day of her resignation last summer the Raiders were named the Oregon Sports Awards’ George Pasero Team of the Year.

The 2020 Raiders, who were 9-0 in conference play when the season ended, had returned all but one regular starter from their championship team. Seven seniors, including three All-Americans, were on the roster, but all will be eligible to return for another season if they so choose.

“I want to continue to build on the work that coach Mayben, his staff and the team put in this year,” Pistole said. “The goal will always be to continue to move forward and become better as coaches and players together and to embrace our three core values: ‘Family. Ruck. Natty.’”

Jessica Pistole, pictured here during the NAIA Opening Round playoffs in 2019, is back as Southern Oregon’s head softball coach, the school announced Sunday night. (Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune)