On Monday night, Marissa DeMatteo won the Gold Standard Teammate of the Year award for the Pittsburgh Panthers Softball team at Pitt’s Second Annual Panthers’ Choice Awards. When I asked her how she felt after winning the award, she said:
“I was so honestly so shocked! I knew the girls voted for this award, so it truly meant so much to me that I almost got a little emotional. My teammates mean so much to me, they’re all my sisters. I don’t know where I would be without them. They are truly such a source of light in my life. It was such a special moment.”
It would be easy to assume that it also meant Marissa is having a terrific season, right? Well, that depends on how you choose to look at things. In order to understand why DeMatteo is so appreciative, you have to understand that this award has been in the making since the fall of 2015.
For the last four years, Marissa and her teammates in the 2019 graduating class, have traded weekends on campus or with their families for road trips to play softball, some in cold weather, all subject to rainouts. They really can’t sleep through an 8am class because they wake up hours earlier to train. Let’s not forget they’re students before athletes and must complete assignments like any other student.
This season, DeMatteo’s senior season, all of that sacrifice was finally paying off. Despite playing in 101 games through her first three seasons, including 15 starts, she became a regular in the lineup and in the field this year. Through 13 games and 11 starts, Marissa held a .364 batting average in 22 plate appearances with only 1 strikeout; she was a very tough out. She was nearly flawless in the field, carrying a 97.6% fielding percentage in 41 total chances.
DeMatteo was undoubtedly having her best season, but an injury in late February has sidelined her ever since. Not quite the storybook ending Marissa envisioned, but she wouldn’t trade a single moment from the last four years if given the chance to rewrite things:
“No one goes out on the field thinking they’ll get hurt, so if and when it happens, it definitely puts a damper on things. All I can say is that I am truly so blessed to have even had this opportunity, the opportunity to play for such an incredible university. Although my time was cut a little short, I wouldn’t change this experience for the world. When an injury happens, it’s all about mindset when recovering, so I chose to look at the positives - I had an unforgettable experience with some amazing people by my side.”
With an attitude and outlook like that, it's not surprising that DeMatteo won the award. It might be somewhat surprising to those that consider she spent a majority of the season on the sidelines. But for those that know her, they likely weren’t surprised Marissa continued to be an impact teammate even though she could no longer be an impact player on the field:
“It didn’t take me long at all to make that mental shift. At this point, there was nothing more I could physically do, so I knew I had to step up mentally and try to be a source of light for the girls around me.”
Softball is a team sport, but one that requires individual success throughout. In a season in which Marissa could have focused on “me” she instead focused on “we”. DeMatteo isn’t going to set the Pitt record for putouts or hits or in any other major statistical category, all records that are eventually broken. No, instead, Marissa is going to leave the Panthers this year as the gold standard of how to conduct yourself on and off the field, in and out of the lineup, a benchmark that will never be surpassed.