Jessica Brown carries the weight of wisdom into her first season as the head coach of Taylor softball as a past player and sports administrator. A 2014 Mississippi State University graduate, Brown excelled as a student-athlete and progressed in the coaching ranks until a door opened for her to lead the Trojans.
Brown grew up in Alabama and had to choose between Auburn and Mississippi State when deciding where to take her softball talents. She ultimately chose MSU because her older sister, Katie, played softball there, and she came to love it. Over her four years as a Bulldog, Brown was selected to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team and ended her career as the only player in SEC history to have four multi-home run games in a single season.
Following graduation, Brown said she had the desire to obtain a master’s degree in sports marketing, but was influenced by her coach Vann Stuedeman to pursue a career in coaching. Until 2020, Brown served MSU softball as a student-assistant coach, graduate assistant and director of operations.
“I had a lot of opportunity at Mississippi State to learn the mental side of the game, to really learn the X’s and O’s about hitting, defense (and) nutrition in the weight room,” Brown said. “Now that I’m at a place like Taylor, (I’m) able to give those resources back.”
Unlike most coaches she knows, Brown was able to experience the business side of the sport in operations before accepting her first head coaching role at Palm Beach Atlantic, a NCAA Division II program in West Palm Beach, Florida. Brown met her husband, Michael, at PBA, who held the position of senior associate athletic director. In two seasons, Brown led the Sailfish to a 32-23 overall record.
Michael accepted the associate athletic director for operations position at Purdue Fort Wayne in July 2021 and that led the Brown’s to their current residence in Fort Wayne, Indiana. For nearly a year following the move, Brown gave softball lessons and helped with a travel softball team. Then, this past summer, Brown got a call from Kyle Gould, Taylor athletic director and head coach of baseball, about a head coaching vacancy in softball.
Brown said she jumped at the opportunity and was ready to get back into coaching after a brief pause.
“There’s a sense of pride about the name Taylor,” Brown said. “The community of people really support each other and have pride in their school … I’m very honored to be (the softball) coach and I’ve enjoyed every minute here at Taylor.”
Aleyah Rastetter, a junior dual pitcher and outfielder, said she and Brown instantly clicked because Brown reminded her of her high school volleyball coach. Rastetter called Brown an intentional woman of faith who she continues to value not just as a coach, but as a person, because of Brown’s willingness to pour into the team.
Since Brown’s hiring in the summer, Rastetter said she is constantly surprised by the knowledge Brown brings to practices and games and how she can form deep connections with the players. Rastetter’s relationship with Brown has grown dramatically throughout the season, including one game that turned a friendship into a true bond.
“I was going through a rut in life and in softball, and I told her nothing about it but she came up to me and noticed something was wrong,” Rastetter said. “She asked me to stay and talk to her after the game and we literally spent an hour and a half talking to one another about life … After that we were able to read each other better.”
Until recently, Rastetter said she was planning on graduating after three years at Taylor but Brown was a significant factor in her staying for a fourth year and season.
Livie Lehmann, freshman shortstop, said that all of her previous softball coaches were male, so she has benefited greatly from having an experienced female mentor in Brown as she embarks on a collegiate career.
Even as Brown is a new mother, Lehmann said she occasionally brings her daughter to practice because the team still retains a high priority in her life.
“She’s super dedicated already and that’s good to see as a freshman because I’m also new,” Lehmann said.
Amidst softball’s preseason, Lehmann said Brown met with each freshman and talked them through their roles on the team. She described this as her favorite memory so far with Brown because it demonstrated Brown’s willingness to be upfront and transparent.
With her first season coming to an end, Brown said she is excited about the young talent moving forward and all the pieces they have to make serious strides in the Crossroads League.