TAMPA, Fla. – Rachel Ionata carries a mature air that belies her 21 years. It’s part of what makes her a valuable part of South Florida’s softball team.
In her first season with the Bulls, the Palm Harbor, Fla., native has made just four appearances out of the bullpen thus far, but her experience gained from her softball career has been a steadying force on a young USF squad.
“To have someone like [Ionata] come in here and be part of the team is easy for me because she’s able to give her experience to others,” USF Coach Ken Eriksen said. “Someone like her that’s very mature, that comes in and understands what team play is all about, what the trials and tribulations of an academic week or semester is and the toll it can take on you mentally, you have some senior leadership in her, so she’s just another added bonus for us.”
Ionata takes that role with her onto the mound. The senior right-hander’s mentality is geared towards supporting the rest of the Bulls’ pitchers.
“I try to go out there and work hard for the team,” she said. “Roll some grounders, throw some pop ups, not try to do too much. Let people around me do work and keep us in the ball game. Be competitive.”
Her willingness to compete impressed first-year coach Jessica Moore. The former All-American and Women’s College World Series champion at Oregon has enjoyed working with Ionata.
“We spent a lot of time together early in the fall,” Moore said. “I saw she was very talented, and I was excited to see how she would do as a individual within our staff, showing them, ‘Hey I’m new, and I haven’t thrown in a long time, but I’m going to come out and compete.’
I’m happy to have her on the staff to push others and hold each other accountable, and she’s done a great job.”
Unsure if she was going to pitch following single seasons at Maryland-Baltimore County and Division II Florida Tech and sitting out a season due to her second transfer, Ionata thought about focusing on her studies in cell biology.
“But not playing, I really did miss it. Just doing academics was not boring, but it’s amazing how much time difference there is between being just a student and being a student-athlete,” she said. “Thought I would try and give it another shot.”
Eriksen and Moore say they are thankful she did.