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Kentucky Tabbed as 2014 NFCA Division I National Coaching Staff of the Year

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Head coach Rachel Lawson, associate head coach Kristine Himes, assistant coach Molly Johnson-Belcher and volunteer assistant coach Kara Dill of the University of Kentucky have been voted as the NFCA Division I National Coaching Staff of the Year the Association announced on Wednesday. 

For NFCA Division I Regional Coaching Staff of the Year winners, please visit the bottom of this release.

It was truly an historic 2014 season for Kentucky as the Wildcats tallied a UK-record 50 victories, earned the program’s first-ever Women’s College World Series berth, defeated a school record 15 ranked teams during the season and finished the year ranked No. 6 in the final USA Today/NFCA national poll. Entering the annual Southeastern Conference tournament as the seventh seed, the Wildcats caught fire, advancing all the way to the title game. That postseason momentum carried over to UK’s run through the NCAA tournament as the Blue & White won the Lexington Regional before venturing out to knock-off No. 2 UCLA in the best-of-three Los Angeles Super Regional. Kentucky christened its first WCWS trip by topping Louisiana-Lafayette before being eliminated via consecutive defeats to eventual national finalist Alabama and Baylor.

Having just completed her seventh year in charge of the Wildcat program, Lawson has taken Kentucky from just 17 victories during her initial campaign in 2008 to the lofty heights of a 2014 season that witnessed UK’s first 50-win effort and initial WCWS berth. Already the winningest head coach in UK history, she has registered 244 triumphs, guided the Blue & White to three NCAA Super Regionals over the past four years as well as berths in the past six NCAA tournaments and already owns more SEC wins than the ‘Cats had combined prior to her arrival at the helm. 

For their work this season, Lawson, Himes, Johnson-Belcher and Dill also reaped the NFCA Southeast Region Coaching Staff of the Year award.

 

NFCA Regional Coaching Staff of the Year winners this season were:

 

Central Region – University of Oklahoma (51-13, 16-2 Big 12 Conference)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: 5th

Head Coach: Patty Gasso…Associate Head Coach: Melyssa Lombardi…Assistant Coach: Tripp MacKay…Volunteer Assistant Coach: Whitney Cloer…Director of Operations: Sharon Carter

Oklahoma recorded 51 victories, earned the program’s seventh Big 12 Conference regular-season title (with a record-tying 16-2 league mark) and advanced to the WCWS for the fourth consecutive year and the ninth time in program history. As the No. 7 national seed, the Sooners swept through the Norman Regional and took two-of-three in Norman Super Regional play from ninth-ranked Tennessee in again reaching Oklahoma City. Once at the WCWS, the Crimson & Cream went 1-2 with a triumph over Louisiana-Lafayette and losses to top-seeded Oregon and eventual national finalist Alabama.

 

Great Lakes – University of Michigan (47-15, 18-5 Big Ten Conference)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: 10th

Head Coach: Carol Hutchins…Associate Head Coach: Bonnie Tholl…Assistant Coach: Jennifer Brundage…Volunteer Coach: Nikki Nemitz…Director of Operations: Erin McLaughlin

Michigan secured a share of its seventh consecutive and 17th overall Big Ten Conference regular season title with an 18-5 league mark and advanced to NCAA tournament play for the 20th straight year. The Wolverines completed the year at 47-15 overall, rallying to eliminate home-standing and fourth-ranked Arizona State from the Tempe Regional and battling No. 3 Florida State to the third and deciding game of the Tallahassee Super Regional before being eliminated just short of a Women’s College World Series berth via a walk-off HR.

 

Mid-Atlantic – University of Notre Dame (41-13, 16-5 Atlantic Coast Conference)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: 22nd

Head Coach: Deanna Gumpf…Associate Head Coaches: Kris Ganeff & Lizzy Lemire…Volunteer Assistant Coach: Brittany O’Donnell…Director of Operations: John Whitty 

Notre Dame finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season standings, advanced to the ACC tournament championship game, made their 16th consecutive appearance (19th overall) in an NCAA Regional and reached the 40-win plateau for the 16th time in program history with a 41-13 overall record. After dropping a 3-1 decision to eventual WCWS participant Florida State in the ACC Championship final, the Fighting Irish jetted across the country for the Los Angeles Regional. UND went 2-2 in NCAA play, defeating Long Beach State twice, but dropping a pair of decisions to second-ranked UCLA to be eliminated. The 2014 Irish set program marks for team batting average (.357), hits (533) and doubles (107).

 

Mideast – University of Tulsa (53-9, 19-4 Conference USA)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: 18th

Head Coach: John Bargfeldt…Associate Head Coach: Crissy Strimple…Volunteer Assistant Coach: Jeff Allen

During the 2014 campaign, Tulsa posted a 53-9 record, won its fifth Conference USA regular season championship, its fourth C-USA tournament title and made its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance. The Hurricane set 19 team single-season school records including wins, fewest losses, batting average (.325), runs (368), hits (553), RBIs (333), home runs (59), slugging percentage (.504), on-base percentage (.404), pitching strikeouts (479) and opponent batting average (.183). Tulsa received a bid to the Waco Regional where the Hurricane pushed eventual WCWS participant Baylor to the “if necessary” game before dropping a 3-1 decision.

 

Midwest – University of Nebraska (44-18, 18-5 Big Ten Conference)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: 16th

Head Coach: Rhonda Revelle…Associate Head Coach: Lori Sippel…Assistant Coach: Diane Miller…Director of Operations: Katie Brown 

Nebraska earned a share of the Big Ten Conference regular-season title, posted the seventh 40-win regular season in school history and won an NCAA Regional title for the eighth time in program history. Along the way, Nebraska set school records for most road victories (18), home runs (73), RBIs (325) and extra-base hits (173), while producing the top slugging percentage (.495) in program annals. The Huskers advanced all the way to the Tuscaloosa Super Regional but were eliminated from NCAA play via a pair of one-run defeats against eventual WCWS Championship Series participant Alabama.

 

Northeast – James Madison University (45-15, 15-3 Colonial Athletic Association)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: Receiving Votes

Head Coach: Mickey Dean…Assistant Coaches: Jennifer Herzig & Loren LaPorte

James Madison concluded the season with a 45-15 record, set school standards for both most wins and fewest losses and earned the program’s first-ever national ranking and All-American selection (pitcher Jailyn Ford). During the year the Dukes swept the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament titles, while earning the program’s third all-time bid to the NCAA tournament. Sent to the Lexington Regional, JMU won its opener before dropping consecutive one-run decisions to eventual WCWS participant Kentucky and DePaul.

 

Pacific - University of Oregon (56-9-1, 20-3-1 Pac-12 Conference)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: 3rd

Head Coach: Mike White…Assistant Coaches: James Kolaitis & Chelsea Spencer…Volunteer Assistant Coach: Mike Roberts…Director of Operations: Megan Murphy 

Oregon completed its 2014 campaign at 56-9-1 overall, earning its second consecutive Pac-12 Conference crown, the top national seeding in the NCAA tournament and an eventual WCWS berth while setting a program single-season record for wins. During the campaign, the Ducks moved to No. 1 in the national polls for the first time in school history, remaining on top of the USA Today/NFCA Division I rankings for six consecutive weeks to round out the regular season. After sweeping through NCAA Regional and Super Regional play at home, UO went 2-2 in WCWS action. Oregon picked up wins in Oklahoma City over Florida State and Oklahoma but lost to both of the eventual national finalists Florida and Alabama.

 

South - University of Alabama (53-13, 20-5 Southeastern Conference)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: 2nd

Head Coach: Patrick Murphy…Associate Head Coach: Alyson Habetz…Assistant Coach: Stephanie VanBrakle…Volunteer Assistant Coach: Adam Arbour…Director of Operations: Kate Harris 

Alabama rolled to its fifth Southeastern Conference regular-season title (fourth in the last five years) and earned a second berth in the WCWS Championship Series over the last three seasons. The Crimson Tide recorded 53 triumphs to mark its 10th overall campaign of achieving at least 50 wins and the ninth such effort over the last 10 seasons. ‘Bama received the No. 2 national seeding in the NCAA tournament and swept undefeated through its home-hosted Tuscaloosa Regional and Super Regional (versus Nebraska) on the way to the program’s ninth WCWS berth. Once in Oklahoma City, the Tide topped Oklahoma, Kentucky and Oregon before succumbing in two straight contests during the title series against national champion Florida.

 

Southeast - University of Kentucky (50-19, 13-11 Southeastern Conference)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: 6th

Head Coach: Rachel Lawson…Associate Head Coach: Kristine Himes…Assistant Coach: Molly Johnson-Belcher…Volunteer Assistant Coach: Kara Dill…see main release body for more info.

 

West – University of California, Los Angeles (52-8, 19-5 Pac-12 Conference)

Final USA Today/NFCA Ranking: 9th

Head Coach: Kelly Inouye-Perez…Assistant Coaches: Lisa Fernandez & Kirk Walker…Director of Operations: Jodie Legaspi-Kiaha 

During the 2014 campaign, UCLA garnered the program’s first No. 1 ranking in the USA Today/NFCA Division I softball poll since 2011, registered the most wins in a season (52) since 2003, earned an NCAA Super Regional berth and finished second in the Pac-12 Conference regular-season standings. After sweeping through its home-hosted NCAA Regional at 3-0 with a pair of shutout victories over nationally-ranked Notre Dame, the Bruins topped Kentucky in the Los Angeles Super Regional opener before being eliminated just short of a WCWS berth via consecutive losses to the ‘Cats.