In 2015, the Loyola softball team (21-20, 7-10) signed Kiley Jones, a pitcher from Indiana. The coaching staff said it knew from the beginning she was going to be an asset to the team. She was a bright student and a talented softball player — the coaches were excited for her to play.
Fast-forward two years and Jones, now a junior, has a 1.76 ERA this season, which ranks third in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), and a record of 15-9. While those statistics would make someone think she’s been training and playing softball her entire life, Jones had her start in basketball. She switched to softball as a kid after she watched her dad play in a recreational league.
“I think I was eight when I started playing [softball] and I didn’t start pitching until I was almost 11, but from then on it’s been my thing,” Jones said. “I fell in love with it right away.”
Jones said she was “awful” at pitching initially and it took work to get where she is now. She said her dad was her coach and would never let her pitch because she was so bad.
“I kept at it through broken fences in the backyard, broken porch beams and broken ankles,” Jones said. “Eventually it stuck, but a lot of hard work [went into it] when I was younger.”
The recruiting process kicked off her journey to Loyola. Jones said she had never heard of Loyola until head coach Jeff Tylka reached out to her. She was originally looking to attend Ivy League schools where she’d focus on academics.
“We kept going after her and trying to see if we were the right fit,” Tylka said. “We knew, academically, we could do the stuff that she wanted to do.”
Ultimately, the location ended up being the biggest draw for her. At first, she said she was excited about living far away from her home in Valparaiso, Indiana. But, she said getting to be close to home and at an academically challenging school made Loyola the perfect match.
Jones is a social work and criminal justice double major and in the honors program. With such a full course load, one would think Jones would have trouble balancing everything she’s involved in, but she said because she’s highly interested in everything she’s studying, it makes the work easy to do.
“Learning how to work with people is kind of my strong suit,” Jones said. “It’s where my passions lie [and] it’s where I do best academically. I’ve been lucky to just be in classes that I understand and when I’m able to focus on realizing that this is where my career is going to take me, it makes the motivation easier.”
Jones’ passion for working with people has allowed her to take on a leadership position on the team this year. Junior pitcher Keenan Dolezal said despite having two seniors on the team, Jones has stepped up to mentor the younger players.
“She’s definitely taken the role [as a leader] this year,” Dolezal said. “I feel like [Kiley’s] stepped up, especially with [first-year pitcher] Maddie Veres, and she has taken her under her wing and has helped with her adjustments. She’s always there for everyone on the team.”
Jones’ care for her teammates doesn’t stop with Veres. Tylka said she’s a good player to have around because everyone’s comfortable with her.
“She’s kind of a team mom. In a caring way, she’s in everyone’s business,” Tylka said. “She just wants to make sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to. It’s nice to have a kid like her around because you can go up to her and ask her to check up on someone.”
Dolezal said Jones makes everyone on the team better and she’s constantly encouraging everyone to do their best.
“We had to write little notes for each teammate and the first thing that came to mind for hers was making everyone better as a whole team,” Dolezal said. “She’s just always a team player and just helps me be better as a pitcher.”
Jones said the team has always had rollercoaster-like seasons, but this year the team has been able to learn from its experience.
“We’ve done it in a way that we can grow more from it with this group and this team that we have now and our mentality,” Jones said. “I think we are in a place where we can minimize those lows and maximize the highs.”
Jones and the Ramblers are scheduled to play Drake University April 28 at Loyola Softball Park.