My name is Marjani Knighten. Most people know me by MJ. MJ, the softball player. I remember swinging the bat for the first time when I was two years old. My dad, who played for USC, is the one to "blame" for introducing me to the sport. While I may have not been able to predict my softball future as a two-year-old, I knew shortly after that I want softball to play an integral part of my life.
First Real Competition
When I was eight years old, I started to play more competitively. I was part of a team called the Corona Angels and pretty much played all-year-round. In 2008, my team and I even won a national championship in the 12-and-under category. In general, my time with the Angels really set the direction for my upcoming softball career at Nebraska and beyond.
The College Process
Over the past five years, I ended up becoming the 6th player from the Corona Angels to join the Cornhuskers. Nebraska just happened to always have a great relationship with the club. I still remember my first conversation with Rhonda Revelle, the head coach for the Huskers. We talked for about 45 minutes. But over 90% of the time, we chatted about everything else but softball. She made me feel special. Not like I was just another recruit to her. So, right there, I already fell slightly in love with Nebraska. But once I got to see Nebraska’s campus, I pretty much knew that this is where I want to spend the next years of my life. I was incredibly grateful for all the school offers I had from other universities as well but Nebraska won me over.
As A Cornhusker
My time at Nebraska was absolutely phenomenal. I enjoyed every moment of it. The relationships I had formed with my coaches and my teammates over the years are indescribable. Honestly, as much as I remember specific softball games, it is the moments off the field that really stuck with me. Also, Nebraska provided me with resources like the Life Skills department that were just so invaluable to me. I always knew that there would be a life after softball. And I wanted to be prepared for that.
Honors & Awards
As a student-athlete, I was fortunate to have earned quite a few academic and athletic awards. One award, however, and the only reason I even bring up this topic, really holds a special place in my heart. After my junior year, I found out that I had earned All-American honors. The award meant so much to me as the ambition to become an All-American was somewhat engrained in my mind from my time with the Corona Angels. My head coach always believed in me and said:
One day, you will be an All-American, MJ!
So, inevitably, I always had this dream of proving him right. This award will always remind me of my time with the Angels as well.
But there was a lot more to my student-athlete career than awards and honors. And quite frankly, not all of the chapters in my career were bright ones.
The Pressure Of Doing Well
At the beginning of my senior year, I felt a lot of pressure. Pressure from expectations that people had of me but also from expectations I had of myself. I just became an All-American, I had earned Big Ten honors and other noticeable awards. I wanted to step it up another notch in my senior year. But the season didn’t go as planned. For the first couple of weeks, we were 0-10 and I simply underperformed. One day, I just remember all of my frustration piling up. Without further notice, I left our warmup. I ran into the training room and had a full-blown anxiety attack. The pressure just became unbearable. It was something I had never experienced before. Later on, I shared this moment with my trainer and was informed about the causes and seriousness of the incident.
As a result, I began to see a sports psychologist. She was the turning point in my senior year that made me realize one really, really important thing...
I am Marjani, not just MJ.
Everyone just knew me by MJ. MJ, the softball player. Don’t get me wrong, softball means the world to me. But I don’t want to be known as just an athlete. I am far more than that. Having her educate me on this transformed my mindset and allowed me to really embrace who I am. The thing is, most people only see your athletic accomplishments. Your awards, your titles, your stats, etc. But there is just so much more going on behind the curtain. And every single athlete, regardless of his or her accomplishments, deserves the right to experience moments like this.
The Pro League
When I graduated from Nebraska, I started the next chapter of my softball career. Softball has a comparable draft system to Major League Baseball. I was selected as the 25th overall pick and began my professional career with the Scrap Yard Dawgs. The league takes place during the summer and is a great way for me to stay competitive. But my goals for the future go beyond competing.
I want to become a division I softball coach. My heart is set to that. Once I earned my degree from Nebraska, I had a very difficult decision to make. My head coach offered me to join the team as a Graduate Assistant. But so did Wichita State’s head coach. We played a lot against the Shockers with Nebraska and I always had a great relationship with them.
One day, I sat down and evaluated the two options. I came to the conclusion that in order to pursue my goal of becoming a great softball coach, it would serve me well to experience a new environment. As a result, I accepted the offer at Wichita State. For my professional advancement, I needed to get accustomed to a different coaching style, a different mentality, and simply had to learn to get comfortable with the unknown.
Besides coaching at Wichita State, I also pursue my Masters in Sports Management and still play softball during the summer for the Scrap Yard Dawgs. I’m very grateful to be where I’m at today and can look back at a prosperous athletic and academic career. Now, my goal is to just soak in as much as I can, help the Shockers in any shape or form, and continue to follow my dreams.