Unicoi County native Megan Griffith served as the pitching coach for the University of California San Diego softball team during a 2019 season that saw the squad advance to the NCAA Division II Women’s College World Series. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

An Erwin native who made a name for herself on the diamond is now having success in the dugout.

Megan Griffith concluded a successful softball career at Science Hill High School in 2011.

“I was the three-time Big 8 All-Conference Player of the Year, 2008 all-tournament team, 2009 all-tournament MVP, four-time All-Northeast Tennessee Team, 2008 MVP Fastpitch for Chicks 16-18U, two-time FCA Tennessee All-Star Team, member of the National Society for High School Scholars,” Griffith said of her time with the Lady Hilltoppers. “I earned a high school diploma and an International Baccalaureate Diploma.”

Next, Griffith moved on to Gulf Coast State University where she played for a year and a half after having back surgery and redshirting.

“There I led the team in most every offensive category including doubles, homeruns, slugging percentage (.591), RBIs (57), total bases (110) and extra base hits (23)” Griffith said.

Griffith then returned to her home state where she attended Middle Tennessee State University and played shortstop for the Lady Raiders.

“There I was an NFCA Division I All-American Scholar Athlete, made the dean’s list and was Conference USA Player of the Week multiple times,” Griffith said.

Griffith graduated from MTSU in May 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in exercise science. College was a memorable experience for the Erwin native.

“There were many amazing experiences, however, my two favorites were hitting a grand slam in Florida followed by a 3-run homerun the next at bat and a two run double the next. I broke the NJCAA record for most RBIs in a single game,” Griffith said. “The second was hitting a walk-off grand slam against MTSU’s rival Western Kentucky University in a hard-fought battle.”

Griffith said she also learned many important lessons playing softball at the collegiate level.

“College athletics helped shape me into the person I am today,” she added. “I learned so many lessons about commitment, integrity, what it means to be a true competitor and how to work relentlessly towards your goal. Being a collegiate athlete is much more difficult than some imagine. You have to be a pro at time management. I balanced 5 a.m. workouts, a full course load, study hall, practice, community service, studying, homework and various other obligations on a daily basis.”

After graduation, Griffith decided to make the move from the field to the sidelines.

“I was drawn to coaching to be able to give back to the sport that gave me so much,” she said. “Through softball I was able to travel all over the country, meet amazing people, learn a multitude of life lessons and have my education paid on scholarship.

“I coach collegiately because I feel this is where young women need the most guidance and best role models. For me college was such a growing experience. I want to help build strong, young women who will be successful on and off the field long after they have hung up their cleats. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve helped someone and been able to give back to the community that gave so much to you.”

Pursuing her coaching career took Griffith to California in September 2016.

“When I got to California, I had no jobs lined up and really no way of knowing what was going to happen,” Griffith said. “I was blessed that a former college teammate’s family let me stay with them until I could get my feet under me. I worked as a server at a restaurant and a volunteer assistant at Whittier College.”

Volunteering at Whittier College opened up doors for Griffith.

“Eventually the head coach at Whittier College helped me find a better paying job still in the realm of softball,” she said. “I worked as tournament coordinator, college coach liaison and travel ball coach for several months in order to build up my resume. I then applied for the assistant coach position at University of California San Diego.”

Griffith was offered – and accepted – a job at UCSD in September 2017.

“It took a great deal of hard work and determination,” she said. “I refused to give up on my dream after nearly a year of praying and battling and God opened the right door for me.”

In her first year at UCSD Griffith served as the hitting and field instructor.

“In the 2018 season the team hit 30 points better than the previous season and boasted the highest average in the last 10 years, finishing the season at .306, “she said. “My first year we made it to the regional tournament and fell rather quickly, which was a disappointment.”

For the 2019 season, Griffith took over pitching coach duties due to a sudden illness.

“This was an incredibly rewarding and amazing experience,” she said. “During my time overseeing the pitching staff we earned five conference pitcher awards, improved our regular season ERA down to 2.20, earned first team all-conference pitcher, first team All-West Region Pitcher, the first no-hitter in school history, and six shut-out victories. This was a huge improvement from the previous years and I could not be prouder of the work ethic and dedication of those athletes. They bought into my system and trusted me and we went the furthest the team had gone since 2012.”

UCSD finished the 2019 season with an overall record of 37-17.

“We play in a very competitive Division II conference,” Griffith said. “This year we were able to accomplish an unbelievable amount. We were conference regular season champions (first time since 2011), All-West Regional Champions (since 2012), Super Regional Champions (since 2012) and made a NCAA Division II Women’s College World Series appearance (first since 2012). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to win it all and come back with a ring. However, to be one of the last eight teams standing in the nation was such an honor. The pride and joy I feel when coaching those athletes are incomparable to anything else. I truly believe I have found my calling and am so passionate about my work.”

This summer, Griffith decided to accept a position as a hitting/assistant coach at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia – a Division I university in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

“I will start there in the fall of this year,” Griffith said. “I valued my time and experiences in California a great deal, but I chose to make the move to be closer to my family on the east coast.”

It is her family that Griffith credits with her success.

“I would like to thank my parents and family for always supporting me, encouraging me to chase my dreams and never give up,” she said. “They taught me to be strong, independent, honest and hard working. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without their love and support. I am truly blessed.”