Ashley Chastain returns to USC as softball coach: ‘There is no place like home’

Ashley Chastain’s voice shook as she addressed a crowd of South Carolina athletics staffers, local media and family Wednesday afternoon.

The former Gamecocks pitcher from 2009-11 found herself overcome with emotion in her first public appearance as South Carolina softball head coach. As she stood at the podium with a prime view of her parents and former coach Joyce Compton in the front row, Chastain struggled to hold back tears. Tears of joy, gratitude and disbelief that this day had finally come.

“There is no place like home,” Chastain said.

She returns to Columbia — or, as she referenced it Wednesday, “the best place in America” — by way of the Charlotte 49ers, having served as their head coach for the past five seasons. The University of South Carolina board of trustees approved her hiring in a meeting Tuesday afternoon. Her contract will run through June 30, 2029, and she will receive an annual salary of $300,000 per year.

Over the course of her opening monologue, Chastain’s tearful nostalgia subsided and made way for an eloquent pitch addressing how she plans to elevate USC softball. She did not shy away from the task ahead: Make South Carolina a winner in the SEC. She leaned into it, expressing how eager she is to rejoin the “premier league for softball in the country.”

Then she upped the ante:

“Our goal and our vision is to lead this program to championships in the SEC and get the program to Oklahoma City, where it belongs.”

Chastain’s previous coach Compton led the Gamecocks for 24 seasons (1987-2010), guiding them to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Women’s College World Series. Her predecessor Beverly Smith coached USC to a 461-323 overall record (102-219 in the SEC) and nine trips to the NCAA Tournament in 14 years (2010-24). Compton retired in 2010, while USC reported Saturday that Smith would not return as coach — about three weeks after a loss to Duke in the Durham Regional.

Athletic Director Ray Tanner introduces Ashley Chastain, South Carolina’s new softball head coach, during a press conference at the Cockaboose Club in Columbia on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
Athletic Director Ray Tanner introduces Ashley Chastain, South Carolina’s new softball head coach, during a press conference at the Cockaboose Club in Columbia on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

Auburn pursued Chastain in its search for a new softball head coach, sources told The State, but she withdrew her name from contention. USC athletic director Ray Tanner said he reached out to her “as soon as possible after coach Smith departed the program.” Auburn announced the hiring of Chris and Kate Malveaux as co-head coaches last Wednesday, while USC announced Smith’s dismissal three days later.

“She’s been highly sought after by other schools as well, so we didn’t need to be the school — that’s her school — not to get her,” Tanner told The State.

Winning in the SEC is difficult. USC finished with a 36-24 record (8-16 SEC) in 2024. As Chastain said, the league is regarded as one of the nation’s best in softball and will add Texas and Oklahoma next season — the two teams that just competed in the Women’s College World Series finals, which Oklahoma won for a record-setting fourth consecutive year.

Improving South Carolina’s SEC record? “Tall task, right?” Chastain said, verbalizing what everyone in the Cockaboose Club at Williams-Brice Stadium was thinking.

She plans to approach this task with a player-first mentality. She and her staff, which she assured folks would have “deep Carolina roots,” will have to start by recruiting the right players and instilling within them the belief that they can beat anyone.

The staff’s goal will be to utilize both high school recruits and the transfer portal’s top-rated players. They’ll recruit “coast to coast,” and “put a fence up around the state” so that no homegrown talent opts to venture anywhere other than South Carolina’s flagship university.

Chastain played for both Compton and Smith during her time at USC. Her coaching career began in 2012 as a graduate assistant on Smith’s staff. She then went on to work as an assistant coach with the German National Team, College of Charleston, Michigan State and Ole Miss before accepting the head coaching job at Charlotte in 2020.

The former South Carolina pitcher worked as a pitching specialist in Oxford. Ole Miss had the fifth-best ERA in the SEC in 2019, her final season with the team. Charlotte had the second-lowest ERA in the American Athletic Conference (2.79) this past season. The 49ers won over 60% of their games and made two NCAA Tournament appearances in her four-year tenure.

She is clearly ecstatic to be back in Columbia. Back where she played college ball. Back where her coaching career began. And she’s ready to pour that excitement into the next generation of South Carolina softball.

“I want to give our players the experience that I had,” Chastain said. “The experience that changed my life, changed the directory of my life, my career.

“I don’t know if you can bottle that up. That passion and enthusiasm. But I want every player that puts on the uniform to feel the same way that I did and now continue to when I lead the program.”

Jordan Kaye contributed to this report.

Ashley Chastain, South Carolina’s new softball head coach, speaks during a press conference at the Cockaboose Club in Columbia on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.
Ashley Chastain, South Carolina’s new softball head coach, speaks during a press conference at the Cockaboose Club in Columbia on Wednesday, June 12, 2024.

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