Taking over a new program is full of challenges for any head coach, from building a relationships with players to navigating the unfamiliar facilities around them. For Katie Jansson, her first year leading the Drexel softball program came with an additional challenge: a rebrand.
Jansson, who spent the past three years leading the Iona program, was announced as Drexel’s coach on Aug. 6. She succeeds Carl Taylor, whose contract was not renewed in the wake of misconduct allegations against him and former assistants Michelle Schlichtig-Hastings and Ray Hastings. That followed an investigation into what Drexel termed “troubling allegations of misconduct” in the treatment of players. The allegations were not specified.
At 29, Jansson is the youngest softball head coach in the Colonial Athletic Association, and she’s ready for the challenge with her new team.
“I’m not worried about the past,” Jansson said. “I’m big on developing relationships with each kid and getting to know them as a person first. As a coaching staff, I care about you more as a human than I do as a softball player.”
Jansson hopes to bring a culture change to the softball program, emphasizing a trusting family atmosphere.
“My biggest thing is just that everybody has a purpose. We all have a goal, and no role is too small,” she said. “Even if you don’t play a lot, you’re still important and you bring something to the table.
“I want to make sure everybody appreciates and understands every player and their role. Whether you’re a starter or not, you make an impact somewhere.”
Drexel athletic director Maisha Kelly believes Jansson will have an instant influence on the team.
“Katie had an immediate impact in her previous stops, prioritizing success of student-athletes both on the field and in the classroom,” Kelly said. “She brings a competitive spirit, has infectious energy and a passion for the game. Katie creates a culture that steers our women into achieving their goals as students and softball players.”
Drexel is coming off a successful 29-12 season in which it finished atop the CAA North Division with a 13-5 record. Due to COVID-19, last season, the conference’s eight teams were separated into two divisions based on geographical location to make up the North and South divisions. The Dragons lost to James Madison University and Delaware in the second round and semifinals of the CAA tournament, respectively.
Jansson plans to prioritize growing trust between the players and staff, which she believes will play an integral role in the 2022 season.
“Part of being able to win is having that love for each other and wanting to win for each other,” Jansson said. “I love to win, so obviously that is one of our goals, too, but I believe that winning is a byproduct of having team chemistry.”
First baseman Kristi DiMeo said Jansson’s presence has already benefited players.
“Coach Katie has brought a spark of positive energy to the program since Day 1,” DiMeo said. “She is very supportive on and off the field and is focused on helping every member of the team become a better softball player and better person. I am excited to see what the future holds for Drexel softball.”
Jansson is making the transition from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, where she led Iona to two MAAC tournament appearances in her three seasons. Under Jansson’s leadership last season, Iona had the MAAC player, pitcher, and rookie of the year.
“I’m not too far removed from being a college athlete myself,” said Jansson, a 2014 Iona graduate who played catcher there after starring at South Brunswick (N.J.) High School. “I have a good understanding of what they’re going through. I understand being a young woman, knowing there’s a lot of things in society that they need to be aware of. Being able to relate to them on that level helps with trust in relationships.”
I’m not too far removed from being a college athlete myself. I have a good understanding of what they’re going through.
Jansson saw an opportunity to improve with the Dragons.
“This was a great place for me to take a step up in my coaching career,” she said. “This is a new challenge for me. Bigger school, bigger department, and bigger conference.”
Jansson’s coaching style was inspired by her former Iona coach, Melissa Inouye, who now is at Fordham. Jansson started her coaching career as an assistant under Inouye at Iona.
“She was definitely a student-athlete who I knew had the personality and makeup to be a coach,” Inouye said. “She knows the game well and has good character and integrity with a caring personality that will provide a good quality and competitive student-athlete experience.”
Jansson knows changing the culture of a team can be difficult.
“We want to have an all-for-one mentality,” she said. “Softball is a team sport, not an individual sport. We celebrate individual accomplishments but know that a lot of those aren’t able to happen without your teammates.
“We need to know that we’re all-for-one and we’re all in it to achieve a common goal, which is to win.”