LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Melyssa Lombardi (DI / Oklahoma), Sara Kubuske (DII / Indianapolis), James Inzana (DIII / Virginia Wesleyan), Bobbi Bridges (NAIA / Oklahoma City), Matt Sanders (NJCAA DI / Butler CC), Ron Bretz (NJCAA DII / Mercyhurst North East), DJ Johnson (NJCAA DIII / Rock Valley) Caitlin Luquet (Cal JC/Diablo Valley), Jim Costello (High School / Los Alamitos [Calif.]), and Rob Rossi (Travel Ball / Rhode Island Thunder) are the 2017 recipients of the Easton/NFCA Assistant Coach of the Year award.
These awards salute the efforts of coaches from the various NFCA membership categories for their tireless dedication to the sport of softball and to the continued education, growth and development of young women, both on and off the playing field.
The winners were nominated by NFCA member coaches and selected by a panel of their peers on the NFCA Awards Committee.
NCAA Division I: Melyssa Lombardi, Oklahoma
Guiding the Sooner pitchers and catchers the past 20 years, Lombardi has played an instrumental role in the national success of Oklahoma’s softball program, which has won four national championships, including back-to-back title in 2016 and 2017, and three in the last five seasons.
In 2017, Lombardi guided one of the deepest staffs in program history as three pitchers threw at least 100 innings and all five members of the staff posted ERAs of 2.08 or lower. As a staff, they posted a 1.55 ERA, struck out 510 batters and held the opposition a .177 batting average. She tutored a staff that included three-time NFCA All-American Paige Parker, Big 12 first-team selection Paige Lowary and freshman Mariah Lopez. Parker, a junior, posted career bests with a 1.43 ERA and 8.72 strikeouts per seven innings. Lowary transferred from Missouri and became one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the NCAA, recording 11 saves, more than any team in OU history, while Lopez went 18-1 and fanned 109 in 101 innings of work.
NCAA Division II: Sara Kubuske, Indianapolis
Kubuske has been in the Indianapolis dugout for the past eight seasons, all alongside head coach Missy Frost. The 2016-17 season was battle for Kubuske as well as Frost. Just prior to Frost being diagnosed with breast cancer, Kubuske had a health score of her own in October of 2016. Enduring the tough battles together, Kubuske was always by Frost’s side during treatments. She also took on the responsibilities of running practices, coordinating team travel and preparing the squad for their first tournament of 2017, while Frost was getting stronger. Additionally, she took the time to teach graduate assistants Cori Eckerle and Trista Sunderland extra responsibilities so the entire staff was prepared should Frost have been unable to attend practices or games. The hard work was shown as the Greyhound posted a 33-21 mark and received a bid to the 2017 NCAA Regionals.
“Sara fully defines what standing “by your side” really means and even exceeded the definition,” said Bellarmine head coach Renee Hicks.
Kubuske, along with the assistance of Hicks and UAH head coach Les Stuedeman created the FAITH-FIGHT-FROST campaign, which was supported by 42 universities to raise funds towards Frost’s cancer treatments.
“Sara is more than a coach; she is a role model, mentor, and leader for developing young women with character and strength,” said Eckerle, now first-year head coach at Hanover College.
NCAA Division III: James Inzana, Virginia Wesleyan
Inzana, who heads into his ninth season as Virginia Wesleyan’s head assistant coach, has led one of the most successful pitching staffs in Division III. Ranking consistently in the NCAA’s top ten, 2017 was a banner year for the Marlin staff. They posted a nation’s best 0.80 ERA playing a pivotal role in the program’s first national championship. Under his guidance, staff ace Hanna Hull was named NFCA Player and Freshman of the Year.
“As a part-time coach, James dedicates himself to the success of the Virginia Wesleyan program,” said VWU head coach Brandon Elliott. “His energy and passion for the game and the players is infectious as is evident in the team’s continued success.”
In his eight years, Inzana, who also works with the catchers and hitters, coaches first base and constructs scouting reports, has coached 12 All-Americans, two Academic All-Americans, 35 All-Atlantic Region, 33 All-State & 57 All-ODAC players. That impressive group includes 12 Pitchers of the Year, 10 Players of the Year and eight Rookies of the Year.
NAIA: Bobbi Bridges, Oklahoma City
A 16-year member of the Oklahoma City coaching staff, Bridges, who works with the catchers, hitters and call pitches, contributed the program’s 68-1 mark and 10th NAIA national title, the third during her tenure, in 2017. This past season she mentored Diamond Sports Catcher of the Year Jaci Smith, NAIA Player of the Year Kali Pugh and two-time NAIA World Series MVP, pitcher Georgia Wall. In her 15 seasons in the OCU dugout, Bridges has coached 49 All-Americans, five NFCA Catchers of the Year, two NAIA Players of the Year, six Sooner Athletic Conference Players of the Year and five league pitchers of the year.
NJCAA DI: Matt Sanders, Butler Community College
Sanders, who also serves as the program’s strength and conditioning coach, is responsible for advance scouting, working with catchers and corners, recruiting, in-game defensive sets and arm care and recovery. Sanders has transformed the process to prepare the team physically to complete at the highest level possible, which has translated into back-to-back national titles as well as a NJCAA DI Player and Pitcher of the Year.
“Off the field, he is a positive mentor who cares deeply for the student-athletes and encourages them to be strong, confident and independent young women,” said head coach Doug Chance. “His caring approach lends itself to being a go-to when the student-athletes need counsel.”
According to Chance, Sanders was the missing piece to the program as his attention to detail combined with his passion to empower the players transformed the culture, chemistry and competitiveness of Butler CC Softball.
NJCAA DII: Ron Bretz, Mercyhurst North East
Bretz made an immediate impact on the Mercyhurst North East program since being hired in 2009. The Saints have reached the NJCAA DII national tournament each year he’s been on the staff, which included their first-ever appearance in his first season. Serving as the pitching coach, Bretz has tutored eight NFCA and two NJCAA All-Americans. The 2017 staff posted a 2.55 ERA with 322 strikeouts in 321 innings helping Mercyhurst to a 42-10 record.
NJCAA DIII: DJ Johnson, Rock Valley College
Johnson has been a member of the Rock Valley staff since 2016, helping the Golden Eagles to a pair of national championships. Working primarily with outfielders, hitters, four position players flourished under Johnson’s tutelage earning first team All-American honors, including Olivia Fluehr, who received recognition from both the NFCA and NJCAA. In addition to his on-field coaching duties, Johnson recruits, monitors study hall and lines up fundraising opportunities.
Cal JC: Caitlin Luquet, Diablo Valley College
In just two seasons, Luquet has made a big impact on Diablo Valley College helping turn the program into a yearly Super Regional participant and a regular in the top 15 of the state rankings. Luquet, who doubles as an adjunct professor while completing her masters in kinesiology, leads classroom discussions on hitting mechanics and is in charge of all outfield drills, position workouts and team-building activities. If that’s not all, Luquet handles the duties of DVC’s sports information director, athletic equipment assistant and student-athlete success coordinator.
High School: Jim Costello, Los Alamitos (Calif.) High School
Costello played a key role in Los Alamitos No. 1 ranking in the final USA Today Sports/NFCA High School Super 25 Poll with a 28-3 record and the CIF-SS Division 1 championship. Costello, who is retiring at the age of 86, provided a wealth of knowledge and advice to the student-athletes during his 25 years of coaching.
Travel Ball: Rob Rossi, Rhode Island Thunder
Rossi has been a member of the Rhode Island Thunder staff for 15 years, working with catchers and as the players’ recruiting coordinator. In 2017, he helped the Thunder to a third place finish in Boulder, Colo. and 13th at the PGF Premier.