Jennifer McKibben Helps JUCO Players Reach DI Dreams

The most difficult, gritty, and yet rewarding position in softball has to be the catcher. You get beat up for seven innings, your knees are killing you after the work is done, and you often get overlooked like an offensive lineman in football.

At the end of the day, though, there is no better feeling than seeing your hard work pay off. Sometimes you even get a moment in the spotlight if your pitcher has a great day in the circle or you contribute on offense.

The spirit of the catcher never left Jennifer McKibben, assistant coach at Pensacola State College in Florida. McKibben is full of energy and a zeal for the game. 

The former JUCO softball player made the most of her opportunity as a player. She started her playing career at Tallahassee Community College before finishing with Virginia Tech at the Division I level.

At the end of her career with the Hokies in the late 1990s, McKibben was named the defensive player of the year and MVP in back-to-back seasons.

Like any great catcher, she transferred those skills to coaching. So what makes McKibben stand out now and appear to be one of the future premiere names in college softball?

McKibben Committed To The Process

The ideal path to college softball success is being highly recruited out of high school, starting for four years at a major university, and getting to play in the Women's College World Series.

That storybook path applies only to a small percentage of players, though. For the rest of the successful softball players in the country, their story might start without a single scholarship offer. Yet their passion to play the sport they love keeps them in the game — often at the JUCO level.

McKibben not only understands that path to a successful college career, but she also embraces and cherishes that path. It allows her to apply her own journey to the next generation of players.

"Professionally, junior college softball is something that has always been in my blood, both since I played and then coached in it for so long," McKibben told the Mountain West Softball blog in a recent interview.

"It presents a healthy challenge that always keeps you satisfied that you are continually changing lives and helping players get to a level maybe no one gave them a chance to — whether it be athletically or academically or lost in the recruiting process. It's a passion to get these athletes better and better in all aspects of their lives."

Following McKibben's career path, you know that she's true to what she believes about helping under-the-radar players take advantage of a JUCO opportunity. She knows these players simply need a head start on college — and eventually their career. Or success at the JUCO level could lead them to a Division I program and even greater opportunities.

While other coaches in her position might be thinking about building up a track record of JUCO success stories solely to advance in their coaching careers, you get the sense that McKibben would be perfectly content coaching at the JUCO level until the next opportunity comes up down the road.

How Is McKibben Impacting Softball Players?

The Pensacola State College Pirates did not have a glamorous season in 2017, finishing 22-23 overall.

However, the season was a success with players advancing to four-year universities and one player, Kamber Anderson, getting unbelievable experience helping run the softball program behind the scenes.

Kamber suffered a major injury before her freshman season, but she continued with the PSC program as a student-manager for two years. McKibben understands the importance of that experience because of what it means for Kamber's future.

Kamber was forced to battle through adversity, which is exactly the type of player that McKibben loves to work with. It's part of that catcher mentality to enjoy a good battle.

As she described to the Mountain West Softball blog, McKibben is looking for a player who is "not afraid to get dirty, and someone who knows how to meet the moment in tough situations and through adversity . . . selfless players who understand it's always team and family first."

That approach is required at the JUCO level. a few players might be recruited to Division I, but for most players these two years represent an opportunity to grow athletically, academically, and professionally.

McKibben is a great resource to help today's players navigate the JUCO path and find great success. 

How far will McKibben's own career journey take her? She briefly dipped her toes in the DI coaching level as an assistant for New Mexico a few years ago. However, she returned home to Florida to continue coaching at the JUCO level.

She is home. Perhaps down the road there will be another DI opportunity as an assistant or head coach. One of the rising stars in softball coaching has the experience, know-how (because she's a catcher, of course!), and commitment to her players to go as far as she wants to go in this profession.

We'll see what's next in the years to come. For now, pouring into scrappy JUCO softball players away from the spotlight is where McKibben's focus is.



Written by James Caldwell

2022 Catcher Maci Bergeron Is Slugging Her Way To The Top

When does greatness begin? At birth? Once a person starts playing a sport? When he or she gets to high school? 

Northwestern Southpaw Danielle Williams Does It All

College Softball Is Here

A four-time FloSoftball High School All-American during her years at Amador Valley High School, Northwestern first-year Danielle Williams made the move to Evanston from Pleasanton, California as the Prep2Prep Sports 2018 North Coast Section Player of the Year and first-team All-North Coast Section.

Rising Star: Aspen Wesley, Future Mississippi State Ace

Aspen Wesley once had visions of playing college basketball. But when the No. 1 Neshoba Central (Mississippi) High Rockets pitcher got her first taste of pitching in the circle at age eight, softball became her new passion.

NPF 2019 Draft Selections Announced

The Chicago Bandits select Florida pitcher Kelly Barnhill as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NPF draft. 

2019 NPF College Draft: How To Watch

It's that time of the year! Some of the best seniors in the nation are taking the next step to become professional athletes. National Pro Fastpitch will be holding its college draft at ACME Feed & Seed in Nashville. Who will be the No. 1 pick this year?

Jessie Harper, Dejah Mulipola, Alyssa Palomino Blast Arizona Record Books

The junior class for the Arizona Wildcats is on a mission to be one of the greatest collection of players not just in program history, but in the nation. Leading the way are a trio — Jessie Harper, Dejah Mulipola, and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza — who have combined for 50 home runs this season, the most for any three players from one team.

2019 NPF Mock Draft

Historically, pitchers have been the top picks in the NPF draft but we predict this year will be different. Cowles Cup champs USSSA Pride and runner-up Chicago Bandits are stacked with elite pitchers and are in need of position players to strengthen their lineups and defense.

Rising Star: 2020 McNeese State-commit Aaliyah "Papi" Ortiz

Aaliyah Ortiz is better known as “Papi” or “Big Papi,” by her teammates and coaches. The nickname fits, not just because she shares the same last name as the Boston Red Sox star, but because of how her offensive impact on the softball field resembles that of David “Big Papi” Ortiz. 

Through Adversity, Tara Trainer Learns the True Meaning of Success

EXCLUSIVE: On The Field With Indiana

Join PRO Now to Get Unlimited Access to FloSoftball!

Join Now

Already a PRO Member? Log In

It’s easier to have fun when things are going well. Indiana Hoosiers right-hander Tara Trainer was having her share of good times as a freshman in 2016.

How The NW Bullets Emerged As The Northwest's Premier Club

In 2005, Dennis Muir, Tony Campos, and Warren Hall started the Northwest Bullets. This team of coaches wanted to provide a program for players from the Northwest that would allow them to train and play on the national stage. Campos added, “The purpose of the team was to bring together the best athletes in the northwest, to develop their skills and prepare them to play on a national stage and be recruited by top programs.”