CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - McNeese Cowgirl softball has become a hotbed for talented and successful coaches.
For the second time in three years, a Cowgirl head coach has made the jump to a Power 5 Conference team when on Friday afternoon, Joanna Hardin was named the new skipper at the University of Virginia.
"It's with mixed emotions that Joanna is leaving our program," said Director of Athletics Bruce Hemphill. "I am excited for her to not only take a job at a premiere athletic and academic institution in the ACC, but very proud of her accomplishments in her two years as a head coach and previous two years as an assistant.
"Her high character, focus, work ethic, integrity and being an excellent communicator has been as much to do with the success of the program as anything. Those qualities will make her a great fit at Virginia."
Hardin took over the Cowgirl program in 2015 after then head coach Mike Smith left to become the head coach at the University of Mississippi.
In her two seasons, the Cowgirls compiled a 79-34 overall record and 44-9 mark in the Southland Conference, including the 2016 league title and NCAA Regional. Under her guidance, sophomore Erika Piancastelli received All-America honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) in 2015 and 2016. She is the first All-America selection in McNeese State program history.
"There are few words that can express my sincere gratitude to McNeese State University, the Lake Charles community, my incredible coaching staff, and the student-athletes that I have been so fortunate to coach over the last four years," said Hardin. "So many people have contributed to the success of the softball program and it has been such a privilege to bet the head coach for the last two seasons.
"I am grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Bruce Hemphill, President Williams, and the rest of the administration gave me to take the lead of the softball program two years ago. It has taught me so much about life and leadership.
"McNeese and Lake Charles will always have a special place in my heart. As we take the next step in our journey, we are overflowing with appreciation for all that the McNeese family has done for me and (husband) Travis."
In 2016, Hardin led the Cowgirls to a 43-14 record and a No. 33 ranking in the RPI as McNeese claimed the Southland Conference regular-season championship and the Southland Conference Tournament championship. The Cowgirls posted a 23-4 record in conference play and competed in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional. In regional play, McNeese opened the tournament with a win over perennial national power Arizona State. The Cowgirls were eliminated from the Regional after falling to host LSU, who would advance to the semifinals of the Women's College World Series as a national seed, and the Sun Devils in a 14-inning game in the second meeting between the teams.
Several players excelled under Hardin's tutelage at McNeese, with Piancastelli leading the way as a two-time Southland Player of the Year and Hitter of the Year selection. Eight players also earned All-Southland Conference honors in 2016.
In 2015, her first season as head coach, Hardin coached Piancastelli to Southland Hitter, Player and Freshman of the Year honors. It was the first time a player had ever won all three honors in the league's history. Hardin also coached Jamie Allred who claimed Southland Pitcher of the Year honors that same season.
As an assistant during the 2014 campaign, McNeese broke or tied 23 school or conference records. The Cowgirls ranked in the Top 50 in the nation in ERA, stolen bases and triples per game. Four players ranked in the Top 50 in the nation in 11 different statistical categories. McNeese State's pitching staff included two of the top four pitchers in the SLC to lead the conference in ERA, while ranking 44th nationally.
In 2013, Hardin guided the pitching staff to a Top 10 national ranking and the top spot in the Southland in team ERA with a 1.79 mark. That squad also led the conference 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 SLC's top pitcher, Megan Bond, who led the conference in ERA (1.27), opponent batting average (.200), and saves (3).
Hemphill will announce plans for the future of Cowgirl softball in the near future.