By McNeese SID Matthew Bonnette
LAKE CHARLES – Joanna Hardin, a key element in the sustained success of the McNeese Cowgirl softball program that has won back-to-back Southland Conference championships, has been named the squad's new head coach Athletic Director Bruce Hemphill announced on Thursday.
Hardin replaces Mike Smith who accepted a similar job at the University of Mississippi.
Hardin, a native of Fullerton, Calif., has spearheaded the Cowgirl pitching staff the last two seasons, both of which led the Southland in numerous team and individual pitching statistical categories as well as ranking high among the NCAA leaders.
In addition, the Cowgirls broke or tied a total of 23 school or conference records in 2014.
"I am extremely excited for the opportunity to take the reins of the Cowgirls' softball program," said Hardin. "I am grateful that (McNeese President) Dr. (Philip) Williams, (Athletic Director) Mr. (Bruce) Hemphill, Ms. Bridget Martin and the McNeese administration and staff believe in me and my abilities to lead this program."
"We're excited to have Joanna as our new head coach of our softball program," said Athletic Director Bruce Hemphill. "She has done a tremendous job the past two years and has worked extremely hard in sustaining the success of the program. There's no doubt with the skills, enthusiasm and work ethic she brings each and every day, the winning tradition and excitement for the program will continue."
Hardin joined the McNeese staff in 2013 and guided the pitchers to a Top 10 national ranking and No. 1 spot in the Southland in team ERA with a 1.79 mark. That squad also led the league in opponent batting average (.220), saves (6), hits allowed (294), runs allowed (122), earned runs allowed (91), walks allowed (53) and extra-base hits allowed (63).
Individually, Hardin helped develop the league's top pitcher in Megan Bond, who topped the conference in ERA (1.27), opponent batting average (.200), and saves (3).
The success continued in 2014 as the Cowgirls won a school record 41 games en route to their second straight league title.
Sophomore starting pitcher Jamie Allred, the 2014 SLC Pitcher of the Year, set a new school record with 27 victories as well as throwing 10 shutouts in the season. Her exceptional play helped boast the Cowgirls to a league No. 1 ranking in 12 team categories including ERA (1.86), strikeouts (324) and hits allowed (293), just to name a few.
Hardin will keep James Landreneau on her staff. Landreneau was a key component of McNeese's success on offense this season as the Cowgirls set new single-season records with runs scored (298) and on-base percentage (.366) while tying records in triples (13) and hit-by-pitches (33).
In addition to the team success on offense, Cowgirl senior Alanna DiVittorio broke a combined nine school and conference records in the season including season records in runs scored, walks and stolen bases as well as career records in runs scored and walks.
DiVittorio, the league's player and hitter of the year, also became just the second McNeese softball player to earn Capital One Academic All-America honors when she was voted onto the second team.
Hardin will inherit a talented squad for her inaugural season as head coach as the Cowgirls will return a total of six players that were named to the all-conference squad, including Allred on the mound.
""We have tremendous young women in our program," said Hardin. "The goals and expectations will remain the same as they have been – to be champions on and off the field. I'm ready to get to work!"
Hardin began her coaching career as the head coach at Whittier Christian High School, in La Habra, Calif., from 2005-07 and helped guide the Heralds to an Olympic League Championship Title in 2006.
From 2007-09, Hardin served as assistant coach at Liberty University (Lynchburg, Va.) where she oversaw the pitching staff, conducted camps and clinics, and organized daily practices. In her two years at Liberty, the team finished the 2008 and 2009 season as the Big South Conference Tournament Runners-up. Under her tutelage, Tiffani Smith (2011 graduate), was selected to the All-Big South Conference First Team as a sophomore year, the first Flame to receive such honor since 2001.
After earning her Master's Degree from Liberty University, Hardin started and coached a successful 12U/14U travel team, The Virginia Titans, in 2009. In 2010, while coaching the Titans, she served as head coach at Jefferson Forest High School where she led the Lady Cavaliers to the 2012 Seminole District Tournament Championship, a Virginia High School League Region III runner-up finish, and advancing the Lady Cavs to the VHSL State quarterfinals.