Softball’s Gray outlasts change to lead Pitt in senior season


TPN File Photo

Senior shortstop Olivia Gray attained a batting average of .304 over her Pitt softball career.

By Stephen Thompson, Staff Writer

Olivia Gray, Pitt senior infielder, said she was a stubborn child. She reluctantly began playing softball when she was 6 years old after some persuading from her father, Shawn Gray.

According to Gray, she originally had no interest. She was content with gymnastics and soccer, but as soon as she started playing softball, she was hooked.

“As soon as I touched a glove, I think it was something I was meant to be doing,” Gray said. “And I found I was pretty decent at it, so I kinda liked it.”

Throughout her time at Pitt, Gray has seen significant changes befall the program. The Panthers have gone through a conference change, a coaching change and, above all else, a transformation into conference-title contenders.

Through all the modifications and transitions, Gray has been a constant both on and off the field, batting 0.304 in her four years at Pitt. She credits much of this to her father. Besides convincing her to pick up softball, he suggested she move from outfield to infield and coached her on a travel team he created throughout her time in high school.

“He’s the reason I’m where I am today,” Gray said. “100 percent. He’s worked with me since I was a baby and it’s just as much his dream as it is mine. It’s really cool to share this experience with him.”

He was also there to help guide her through the college recruitment process — if you consider it a process.

Gray’s recruitment was short. Some schools showed interest, but she knew what school she wanted to go to and committed to Pitt in her sophomore year of high school. The Washington, Pennsylvania, native did not want to pass up the opportunity to stay close to home.

For as set-in-stone as her recruiting process was, Gray’s college career has been defined by transformation and transition. When Gray first stepped on campus in 2015, Pitt was in the middle of its move to the ACC. While her team was going through a period of big changes, Gray was also struggling to find her footing in college.

While her transition to college may have been difficult, Gray didn’t let it show on the field. She started 47 games and was stout at the plate and in the field, posting a 0.325 batting average with 20 runs batted in and a 0.961 fielding percentage in a year where the Panthers won 31 games.

Following her first year, former head coach Holly Aprile sat her down and told Gray she needed to take a more vocal and visible leadership role.

“When I was a freshman, I stepped into a role of leading by example, and I really prided myself on just doing me and handling what I had to handle,” Gray said. “I think as a freshman, I went through a stage of learning who I was as a leader and then my sophomore year, I knew that I had it in me and that my teammates saw it in me, which was a very humbling experience.”

The leadership role Gray accepted manifested itself in a number of different ways. Gray is now known as the most vocal player on the field –– calling out plays and shouting encouragement –– but she also values her role off of the field. Gray leads team prayers and has helped younger players find their places on the team.

Senior infielder Marissa DeMatteo met Gray when they were on their official visit to Pitt. DeMatteo found herself immediately drawn in by Gray’s infectious positivity and says the rest of her teammates are as well.

“She is very talkative, she’s always cheering very loudly,” DeMatteo said. “She’s the first one, when someone makes an error or needs to be picked up, to say, ‘Hey, I got you’ or ‘You got this,’ ‘Next play, next play!’ She’s such a great motivator.”

Panthers first-year head coach Jodi Hermanek still remembers Pitt’s first team meeting, where Gray began to stick out as a leader in her mind.

“In the first team meeting we had on the first day of school, one of the things I noticed, walking into a room of new people, was that out of all the seniors and returning players, Olivia was the only one sitting amongst the group of four new freshmen,” Hermanek said. “[I realized] this is a person in a senior leadership role … who is ready and willing to be leaned on by that younger group.”

After that first meeting, Gray continued to show Hermanek how natural of a leader she is, both on and off the field. Hermanek credits Gray with helping her adjust to her new job at Pitt.

“She helped me with some adjustments here,” Hermanek said. “Some community service ideas, some ideas for new access areas for practice. Just kind of understand what the formats and usages were [for different facilities] … She was definitely sharing her experiences with the new staff.”

Gray, a rehabilitation science major, was recently awarded the 2019 ACC Postgraduate Scholarship Award. After Pitt, Gray plans to attend graduate school to become a physician’s assistant. In order to get to where she is today, Gray has taken her academics seriously and has taken advantage of everything Pitt has to offer.

“Olivia is definitely the kind of person this athletic department is proud of,” Hermanek said. “She’s such a well-rounded person, athletically, academically, community service-wise. I think that she’s involved herself in all of the resources that our athletic department provides for student athletes to be successful.”

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