The Ladyjacks will participate in four major tournaments before SLC play begins in March
Gay McNutt is entering her eighth season as head coach of the Ladyjack softball program and has more than 20 years of experience as a head coach.
After inheriting a team that hadn't reached the Southland Conference Tournament in 18 years, McNutt led her squad to the league's postseason event in each of her first three seasons in charge and has brought the program both its first-ever Southland Conference championship and its first-ever trip to the Division I NCAA Championships.
The Ladyjacks made a run late in the 2014 season and reached the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time since 2010. SFA closed the regular season 6-1 to enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the league. SFA went deep into the tournament before falling to McNeese State in a semifinal game.
McNutt guided the team to one of its best seasons in program history in 2010, as the Ladyjacks went 29-20 overall and won a share of the Southland Conference title with a 20-10 league record. SFA posted a .278 team batting average that stands as the best in McNutt's tenure and led the Southland Conference with a .973 fielding percentage. The Ladyjacks led the league with 47 home runs, the second-best single-season total in program history. Briana Bishop finished her career as the SFA all-time leader in home runs (36), doubles (37), RBI (132) and walks (86). Kendal Harper left the Ladyjack program with the top career marks in triples (14) and hits (230).
For its efforts that year, SFA piled up the postseason awards. The Ladyjacks led the Southland Conference with six players selected to the all-conference teams. Harper was named to the first team and earned the Southland Player of the Year tab, the first such honor in program history. Kayla Gutowski was likewise a first-team honoree and took league Hitter of the Year honors for the second straight season. That marked just the third time in Southland history for a player to win the award in back-to-back years. Bishop and Monika Covington were also first-team honorees. Ashley Struchtemeyer received second-team accolades, and Jessica Arana took third-team honors. McNutt was named the Southland Coach of the Year, the fifth such award of her career and the first ever earned by a Ladyjack coach.
McNutt's first season in charge, 2008, was a record-setting campaign on multiple fronts. The Ladyjacks posted a 36-25 record, the program's first winning season since 2000 and just the second time since 1994 for the team to finish at .500 or better. The 36 wins are the third-most recorded by an SFA team since the program joined the Southland Conference and marked the first 30-win season for the Ladyjacks since going 31-31 in 1994. SFA reached the SLC Tournament for the first time since 1990, ending an 18-year drought. Once there, the Ladyjacks performed another feat not achieved since 1990, when they took three straight wins to capture the SLC Tournament championship. That performance vaulted SFA into the program's first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division I Championships.
Along the way, SFA set single-season records for hits (Harper, 72), stolen bases (Harper, 28) and home runs (Jessica Tullos, 11). As a team, the Ladyjacks blasted 43 home runs, completely dominating the next-best mark in the program's Division I history -- 26 in the 2006 season. Tullos also set a new career mark for home runs with 23 over her four-year career.
A year after laboring near the bottom of the statistical rankings in the SLC, the Ladyjacks finished 2008 among the top three teams in the conference in 15 offensive categories and led the league in runs scored, hits, runs batted in, triples and total bases. SFA also experienced a big turnaround inside the circle in McNutt's inaugural campaign. The Ladyjacks' 3.91 earned run average in 2007 ranked eighth in the 11-team SLC. But SFA posted a league-best 1.88 ERA in 2008. That mark was the only one in the conference lower than 2.38. The Ladyjacks ranked among the top three in the SLC in nine key pitching statistical categories, leading the league in batters struck out, batters struck out looking, wins, runs allowed, earned runs allowed and walks issued. Tullos was named First-Team All-SLC for her efforts, as was freshman ace Covington, marking the first time since 1998 for SFA to land two spots on the first-team list. Covington was also named SLC Freshman of the Year, the first such honor for any Ladyjack frosh since SFA joined the conference. Harper was a second-team honoree, and junior catcher Kim Daley was named to the third team.
In 2009, McNutt again led the Ladyjacks to a winning record (29-27), the first time since 1990 and 1991 that SFA had posted back-to-back seasons at .500 or better. The Ladyjacks again finished fourth in the SLC standings with a 17-12 league record. SFA opened tournament play with a 7-0 win over UT Arlington before being eliminated with a 3-1 loss to No. 1 seed Texas State and a 2-1 defeat against rival Sam Houston State. The Ladyjacks racked up six all-conference selections, tying for the second-most in program history and tying regular-season champion Texas State for the most All-SLC honorees in the league in 2009. SFA's four All-SLC selections -- Bishop, Harper, Covington and Gutowski -- were the most of any team in the league. Gutowski was also named the conference's Hitter of the Year, the first time a Ladyjack has taken that honor since 1998.
McNutt, a decorated collegiate player, is a veteran with 20 years of head coaching experience under her belt. She spent six years as the head coach of Southland Conference team Northwestern State before taking the reins at Southern Miss for the last seven seasons. In all, McNutt's teams have won five conference championships and finished in the league's Top 5 on four other occasions, with four NCAA Regional Tournament appearances.
In her seven seasons at Southern Miss, McNutt compiled a 211-220 (.490) record. She guided the Golden Eagles to a pair of Conference USA championships -- in 2001 and 2004 -- and became the school's all-time winningest coach during the 2004 season. Southern Miss reached the NCAA Regional Tournament in both its championship seasons under McNutt.
McNutt's first head coaching stop was at Northwestern State. After a rocky start in 1995 and '96, McNutt turned the Demons into one of the best teams in the Southland Conference over the course of her last four seasons in charge. She took Northwestern from an eighth-place finish in '96 to the No. 3 slot the following season. In 1998, McNutt's Demons won the SLC title with a 40-18 overall record and reached the NCAA Regionals. Northwestern State won the championship again in '99, then completed the three-peat in 2000, again qualifying for the NCAA Championships. In all, McNutt compiled a 161-168 (.489) record at Northwestern State, including a 112-61 (.647) mark in her final three seasons. McNutt inherited a Northwestern State team that had put together a combined record of 79-91 in the three seasons prior to her arrival. Three years later, she had the Demons competing for conference championships.
McNutt has been honored numerous times in her coaching career. Before her 2010 Southland Coach of the Year award, she was already a three-time winner of that honor at Northwestern State and took Conference USA Coach of the Year honors in 2004.
McNutt was a four-year starter behind the plate at Texas A&M, starring for the Aggies from 1982-1985. She was named to the all-region team each of those four years and earned All-American honors as a senior in 1985. McNutt, who served as team captain in each of her last two seasons at A&M, helped lead the Aggies to a pair of national championships.
From A&M, McNutt moved to an assistant coach position at Louisiana-Lafayette, where she completed her bachelor's degree in behavioral science. She went on to serve as the assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Houston from 1990-94. McNutt then spent one year as the assistant softball coach at Alvin Community College before taking the position at Northwestern.