LOUISVILLE, Ky. – First-year head coach Eric Newell, assistant coach Scottie Wilkes and graduate assistant coach Rachel Stuart of back-to-back NAIA National Champion Auburn Montgomery (Ala.) have been selected as the NFCA’s NAIA National Coaching Staff of the Year, the Association announced on Wednesday.
With high expectations of taking over a program coming off its first national championship, Newell, his staff and the WarHawks did not disappoint. AUM claimed its second consecutive NAIA Softball World Series Championship after it defeated Lindsey Wilson, 10-0, in the “winner take all” contest after the Blue Raiders forced an if-necessary championship game. AUM became the third NAIA program to win back-to-back titles. Under his direction, the WarHawks (46-9) claimed a Southern States Athletic Conference regular season title (24-2) and went on to drop just one game (7-1) in the NAIA national tournament.
Having just completed his first season in charge of Auburn Montgomery’s program, Newell guided the WarHawks to their fourth consecutive 40-plus win season and NAIA tournament appearance, along with three straight NAIA World Series berths.
For their work this year, Newell, Wilkes and Stuart were also chosen as the NFCA East Region Coaching Staff of the Year, earning the program’s second straight distinction.
Other regional winners this season were:
Central Region – Grand View
Head Coach: Lou A. Yacinich
Assistant Coaches: Destiny Willer, Todd Merical
Record: 33-13 (20-4 Midwest Collegiate Conference)
The Vikings earned their third NAIA National Tournament berth, all coming under Yacinich’s guidance. With the 2015 MCC Coach of the Year at the helm, Grand View won the MCC regular season and tournament titles. Participating in the opening round at Oklahoma City University, the Vikings’ season came to an end despite two valiant comeback efforts in losses to Concordia (Neb.) (5-8 in 9 inn.) and Concordia (Ore.) (4-6).
Great Lakes Region – Saint Xavier
Head Coach: Myra Minuskin
Assistant Coach: Erin Mollohan
Record: 46-7-2 (21-0-1 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference)
Undefeated runs to a Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships earned Saint Xavier one of 10 No. 1 seeds in the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round. In Minuskin’s 15th season at the helm, the Cougars claimed their 10th CCAC title as she earned league Co-Head Coach of the Year honors. The top-seeded Cougars went 2-2 in the Oregon Tech bracket, falling in the championship game to the host Owls. Saint Xavier recorded two 10-plus game winning streaks, including a season-long 13-game run from March 13 to April 3 and finished the season ranked 12th in final NAIA poll.
Midwest Region – Central Methodist University (repeat)
Head Coach: Pat Reardon
Assistant Coaches: Gene Reardon, Ross Dowell, Steve Siebert
Graduate Assistant Coaches: Jacqui Bazner, Lyndsey Talbot, Neil Hansen
Record: 45-10 (18-0 Heart of America Athletic Conference)
Now a “four-peat” Midwest Region Coaching Staff of the Year honoree, Central Methodist reached the NAIA World series following an undefeated run through the Heart of America Athletic Conference regular season. The undefeated run extended the Eagles’ winning streak over conference foes to 30 games. Garnering a No. 1 seed in the NAIA opening round, the Eagles went 3-0 with victories over Columbia (Mo.) College and Bellevue (twice) to win their first NAIA opening round championship. Finishing the season with a No. 5 ranking, the Eagles went 1-2 at NAIA Softball World Series, posted a school-record 45 wins and ran a 27-game winning streak into the 2015 HAAC tournament. The honor marks the fourth straight year and fifth time overall that Reardon and his staff have earned the NFCA Midwest Region accolade, having done so previously in 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Southwest Region – LSU-Alexandria
Head Coach: Erica Harwell
Assistant Coach: Logan Hebert, Eryn Secrest
Record: 51-5 (28-0 Red River Athletic Conference)
LSU-Alexandria, under first-year head coach Erica Harwell, earned the No. 1 overall seed for the NAIA National Tournament and finished the season in the final six at the NAIA Softball World Series and No. 3 in the final coaches poll. LSUA also posted a perfect 28-0 mark in RRAC regular season and swept through the conference tournament to claim its first tournament title by outscoring its foes 36-1—a tournament record for runs scored. The Generals entered the NAIA World Series riding the NAIA’s longest active winning streak at 42 games before dropping their opener to Concordia (Ore.). LSUA bounced back with a win over Mobile before being eliminated by national runner-up Lindsey Wilson.
West Region – Oregon Tech
Head Coach: Greg Stewart
Associate Head Coach: Bill Fagen
Assistant Coaches: Alexander Reynolds, Kelly Reece
Record: 47-16 (22-6 Cascade Conference)
In his 11th season, Stewart and his staff guided Oregon Tech to a fourth-place finish at the NAIA World Series and a No. 4 NAIA final ranking. Matching a school record with 47 wins, Stewart has amassed a 386-161-2 mark and led the Owls to a Cascade Conference regular season title. Hosting an opening round series, the Owls swept through the competition, which included two wins over No. 1 seed Saint Xavier, to earn the program’s berth to the NAIA World Series. Once in Sioux Falls, S.D., Oregon Tech went 3-2 for a third-place finish with its losses coming to national champion Auburn Montgomery and national runner-up Lindsey Wilson. One of its wins was a 16-inning affair with Central Methodist in the longest game in NAIA Softball World Series lore.