FRISCO, Texas — Two days after clinching a share of its first-ever Southland Conference championship, the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjack softball team added some more program firsts to its 2010 resume. The Ladyjacks nabbed a league-high six spots on the All-Southland Conference Teams, announced Tuesday by league officials, and took home their first Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors since joining the Southland for the 1988 season.
Senior outfielder Kendal Harper has been named the 2010 Southland Conference Player of the Year, and head coach Gay McNutt became the first coach in league history to earn Southland Coach of the Year honors with two different programs. She won the award three straight seasons with Northestern State, taking the honor in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Additionally, sophomore first baseman Kayla Gutowski earned Hitter of the Year honors for the second straight season, making her just the third player in league history to accomplish that feat.
SFA's six All-Conference selections tie last year's squad for the second-best total in program history. Included in the count are four first-team honors, the best total in the conference this season. Harper, Gutowski, Briana Bishop and Monika Covington each earned spots on the first team and are all repeat selections. Ashley Struchtemeyer was named to the second team for the second straight year, and Jessica Arana earned third-team consideration.
Harper is making her second straight appearance on the first team and fourth consecutive appearance on the All-Southland teams. She earned honorable mention as a freshman, then took second-team accolades as a sophomore. Harper is batting .327 on the season with 19 RBI and a team-best 28 runs scored. She took over the SFA career records in hits (226) and triples (13) this season. Harper is just the third outfielder in Ladyjack history to earn three straight All-Southland honors.
Gutowski is the first player since Texas State's Kristen Zaleski in 2003 and 2004 to win Southland Hitter of the Year honors in consecutive years. Prior to Zaleski, the last time a player won the award in back-to-back seasons was Louisiana-Lafayette's Sandy Percle in 1983 and 1984, the first two seasons the honor was presented. Gutowski finished the regular season strong with a team-high .358 average, bettering the .348 she hit as a freshman. She also drove in 27 runs, had five homers and eight doubles, and finished the season with a .555 slugging percentage. Gutowski is making her second straight appearance on the first team and continues a run of three straight Ladyjack first basemen to take top honors in the league.
Bishop, a senior third baseman, is making her second consecutive appearance on the first team. She finished the regular season with a .292 average but leads the Ladyjacks in home runs with 10 and RBI with 28. Her .562 slugging percentage is the top mark on the squad. Bishop holds the SFA career records for both home runs (35) and RBI (130), and her 85 career walks are also the top total in program history.
Three seasons after bursting onto the Southland Conference scene with league Freshman of the Year awards, junior pitcher Monika Covington has become the first player in Ladyjack history to earn three straight First-Team All-Southland honors. Her 2.48 ERA and 14-10 record lead the team, as do her 159 strikeouts. She went the distance in 21 of her 25 starting appearances and tossed three shutouts on the year. Covington is just the second SFA pitcher in program history to earn three All-Southland honors, joining Sandy Green, who was a second-teamer in 1988 and earned first-team accolades in 1989 and 1990.
Struchtemeyer posted a career-high .326 average to repeat as a second-team selection. The junior second baseman was second on the team with 10 doubles and had six homers, driving in 20 runs for the season. She is the first player in program history to earn two All-Southland honors at second base.
Arana upped her batting average from .244 in her rookie campaign to a solid .307 in 2010 to earn Third-Team All-Southland honors. The sophomore shortstop also drove in 12 runs and scored 14 times. Arana is the first Ladyjack shortstop ever to be named All-Southland.
McNutt captured her fourth Southland Conference Coach of the Year award by leading the Ladyjacks to their best league season since joining the Southland. SFA set a record for conference wins by going 20-10 in league play to earn a share of the program's first-ever Southland Conference championship. The Ladyjacks posted a 28-18 overall record to complete their third straight winning season, all under McNutt. Prior to her arrival for the 2008 season, the program had not finished above .500 since 2000 and had not reached the Southland Conference Tournament since 1990. Including her 2004 Conference USA Coach of the Year honor, McNutt has been named a league's top coach five times in her 16 seasons as a head coach.
The Ladyjacks will begin play in the Southland Conference Tournament Thursday. SFA has a first-round bye as the No. 1 overall seed and will play at 4 p.m. against the winner of the tournament's first game, pitting No. 4 McNeese State against No. 5 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The tournament will be held in San Marcos, Texas, and is hosted by Texas State.