The women’s softball team welcomed Riley Johnson to its coaching staff this month. Johnson played outfield and second base at Syracuse University. (Photo: Riley Johnson / Courtesy)

There will be another new face in the Hillsdale College softball team’s dugout this spring. 

Riley Johnson joined Hillsdale’s softball coaching staff as an assistant coach this November. Though this is her first position coaching college softball, she brings her longtime love of the game and playing experience with her.

“I’ve always wanted to get involved with college athletics and either pursue a coaching career or go into athletic administration, so when I saw the job was open for an assistant coach, I immediately applied,” Johnson said.

She first began playing softball as a young child — because her father was a coach — and has stuck with the sport ever since.

“As long as I can remember, I think I’ve had a ball in my hand,” she said.

Johnson graduated from Syracuse University with a master’s degree in sport venue and event management, and pursued her bachelor’s degree at Syracuse as well, while playing for its softball team. During her four-year career, she played outfield and second base. She batted .404 during her high-school career, earning her the title of New York AA Player of the Year. 

Johnson’s softball career, however, was hindered by four shoulder surgeries, three of which plagued her collegiate career.

“That allowed me to kind of develop the coach’s eye and be a player-coach more while at Syracuse, since, unfortunately, I couldn’t be on the field as much as I wanted,” she said. “That was definitely something that allowed me to prepare for being a coach later on in life.”

Now, Johnson will put her skills to work at Hillsdale, after coaching high-school softball over the summer. Head coach Joe Abraham said Johnson’s work ethic and compatibility with the school’s overall mission stood out from a pool of 40 applicants.

“She came across as very intelligent, very well-written,” Abraham said. “It was clear she understood our school and was a good fit here, and she brings a lot of softball knowledge to the table. Her demeanor with the players is a really good fit, and our players have taken really well to her.”

Additionally, Abraham said her knowledge of the game will be a good complement to the current coaching staff, which consists of Abraham and assistant coach Jim Zoltowski.

“She brings quite a bit of knowledge about hitting and some defensive fundamentals, also,” Abraham said. “Just in general, the mechanics of the game she’s very good with. My strength is more the mental side of the game, so it’s good she brings something opposite to the table.”

Sophomore second baseman Amanda Marra said Johnson has helped manage off-season conditioning, while introducing new hitting and fielding drills. She also helps manage the softball study table and attends the team’s Bible study.

“She fits in really well,” Marra said. “She’s pretty young, so she’s really relatable to us. We’re all really excited that she’s joining us, and we’re excited for the season.”