Connecting the Diamond’s Dots Jones-Sitzmann reflects on the sport of a lifetime
Find this story and more in the Morningsider (2019 Winter/2020 Spring)
Pictures speak a thousand words. For Mustangs Head Softball Coach Jessica Jones-Sitzmann, the photos on her wall conjure up memories of players and games gone by that could fill volumes.
“I look at the photos on my wall and I see a former player who just had a baby,” Sitzmann reflected. “That player told me a short time after ‘Here’s your next recruit!’ I see B.J. Rohlena who played for me at Morningside and now has a career at Koated Kernels as part of the Jolly Time company. There are memories and stories with each photo. Every time I glance up at those pictures around my office walls, I appreciate the many connections this sport has given not just me, but my family.”
Jones-Sitzmann’s father, Jim, was a fastpitch standout on the fields of Hubbard Park, giving her an excellent role model as a youngster playing t-ball. Once she had a bat in one hand and a glove in the other, her love for the game quickly flourished. She had a decorated high school career at Sioux City East, throwing a no-hitter in the state tournament. That was followed by a successful pitching career at South Dakota State University playing NCAA Division II softball – and it was during those days that coaching at Morningside first crossed her mind.
“Joan McDermott (former Mustangs’ head coach) had the Morningside softball program going strong back in the Division II/North Central Conference days,” Jones-Sitzmann noted. “Her teams were always competitive, and I enjoyed getting to know her. I always thought Morningside would be a great place to coach someday.”
Little did she know, that thought would come to fruition in 1995.
Current Iowa National Guard Major General Ron Dardis was head coach of the Maroon back then, and he convinced the nanny for his children that she should become his assistant. That nanny was Jessica Jones. Just three years later in 1998, Dardis chose to further his military career and left the head softball coach position open.
“Beth Sibenaller (former athletic director) walked in and said, ‘The job is yours,’” Jones-Sitzmann remembered. “I’d applied but didn’t really know my chances. Being in this role is something I’ve cherished every day since.”
Cherished, indeed – and a proven track record to boot. Her staggering résumé includes fourteen 30-win seasons, nine NAIA national tournament appearances, eight Great Plains Athletic Conference championships, and eight conference tournament postseason titles in the last 16 years.
When asked about her favorite memories, Jones- Sitzmann said, “There are so many wonderful times, big wins, and so-on. It’s hard to pick only a few, but having the opportunity to showcase Sioux City by hosting the championship tournament section twice and being in the top-10 in the NAIA are at the top of the list.”
By and large, though, the main thing on the mind of this six-time GPAC Coach of the Year is the here and now. Her focus is on continuing to add to the Mustang family by building strong teams and connections with her players.
“Talking to prospective student-athletes about how great this place is and what softball means and the family around this program is most significant to me,” she added. “Teaching players this great game – just like my dad and coaches along the way in my playing career – is what I enjoy the most. Making connections that last a lifetime.”
Jones-Sitzmann has seen her love for a sport come full circle with her son, Jackson, now a member of the Mustang men’s golf team.
“We were going through the recruiting process when he was almost done with his high school career at Bishop Heelan. Jackson got in the car after a visit and said ‘Mom, I don’t need any more visits. Morningside is home. It’s our family.’ Now, I see him connecting within golf here and in other ways. It’s a lot like what I did. It’s awesome to see him having that love of something. I can’t wait to see where it takes him.”
It’s the connections like those her son has found at Morningside that are the invisible threads connecting the photos covering the walls of Jones-Sitzmann’s office.
“During meetings, current and incoming players will ask me, ‘How do we get our pictures up there?’ I tell them it’s not just about being all-conference or All-American, getting the statistics, and so forth. It’s just people who have touched my life in different ways. I do have to rotate them out, though, or I’d probably cave in the walls of my office.”
While the softball diamond has been the place where so many memories and dreams have been captured in photos throughout Jones-Sitzmann’s softball career, it is the lifetime of connections that are the real gem.