A fifth straight bowl victory by the Bulldog football team and a pair of Conference USA titles by the Lady Techster softball team highlighted another successful year for Louisiana Tech Athletics in 2018-19.
Although not every story was one of success this past year, even the most devastating loss was turned into a positive in many ways in Lincoln Parish. The community and the LA Tech campus came together following the EF3 tornado that ravaged so much of the Ruston area in the early morning hours of April 25.
Within 48 hours of the tornado, hundreds – maybe thousands – of Louisiana Tech students, including student-athletes, and Ruston residents joined forces around the impacted areas to begin the cleanup of debris.
The sight of hundreds upon hundreds of people coming together, the sound of chain saws, bulldozers and other heavy equipment, and the smell of freshly cut pine and the sweat of this labor of love were equivalent to winning the biggest game of the year for the Louisiana Tech and Ruston communities.
As the University embarks on its seventh year of Conference USA membership, all eyes are focused on the start of another highly-anticipated year for Louisiana Tech University on the playing fields and in the classrooms.
The vision for Tech Athletics continues to grow thanks to the many success stories of the past six years. Bulldog and Lady Techster fans have high expectations as the University strengthens its place in the state and the conference as a championship athletic program.
As the calendar flips to a new fiscal year and the first official competition is less than two months away, let's take one more look back at the past year and some of the best moments form the past 365 days.
Academically, 56 student-athletes earned their degrees with nine of those graduating with honors. A record 60 Louisiana Tech student-athletes earned the Conference USA Commissioner's Academic Medal while 212 were named to the C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll.
Eleven student-athletes earned conference all-academic honors for their respective sports, including Morgan Turkoly (softball), Kaitlyn Adams (volleyball), Ethan Reed (football), Steele Netterville (baseball), Chris Clayton (baseball), Drake Heinz (T&F), Conner Killian (Cross Country), Elia Nero (Cross Country), Taylor Stahly (women's basketball), Ashley Channell (bowling) and Kaitlyn Eder (bowling).
Stahly became the 16th LA Tech student-athlete to earn CoSIDA Academic All-American honors, one of the highest honors bestowed to any student-athlete. Stahly (winter), Killian (fall) and Tyler Griggers (spring) were the recipients of the C-USA Spirit of Service Award.
The Louisiana Tech student-athletes combined for a department cumulative GPA of 3.02 while 10 athletic programs eclipsed the 3.0 mark in GPA for the 2018-19 campaign. Bulldog basketball guard Derric Jean earned the Jim Castañeda Postgraduate Scholarship.
New records were set for giving as the Louisiana Tech Athletic Club (LTAC) set new highs in numbers of donors (more than 1,800) and dollars raised ($1.67M). Athletics was also a big part of the success of Louisiana Tech's first ever Giving Day, totaling more than $325,000 during the 24 hours.
Tech legends Dave Nitz and Matt Dunigan were inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame while former Bulldog basketball star Lonnie Cooper was enshrined into the LABC Hall of Fame.
On the field, the fall saw Skip Holtz and the Bulldog football team cap another winning season with a dominating 31-14 victory over Hawaii in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl. It was Tech's fifth straight bowl win, making Tech one of only two programs (Wisconsin) in the country that has won five bowl games in the last five years.
Senior Jaylon Ferguson capped a stellar career by being named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and to four different All-American teams. He became the NCAA all-time leader in career sacks (45.0) while also leading the country in sacks (17.5) during the year. He was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens.
The fall also saw the Lady Techster soccer team record its fifth straight winning season, posting a 13-5-3 record and becoming one of only three C-USA programs to qualify for the league tournament each of the last five seasons. Senior Nomvula Kgoale became the program's first ever three-time all-league selection.
Following the end of the Lady Techster volleyball season, the University made a splash with the hire of former Florida All-American Amber McCray as the 10th head coach in program history. McCray inherits a program that returns a nucleus of players, including Kaitlyn Adams, who set the school record with 31 kills in a five-set match win over Oral Roberts during the fall.
Men's and women's cross country were both honored by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association for their efforts in the classroom as both teams earned All-Academic accolades. Eight members of the men's cross country team competed in the 2018 NCAA South Central Regionals in College Station, Texas.
Women's basketball saw senior guard Kierra Anthony record one of the most prolific scoring seasons in program history, including a program and C-USA single game record 50 points in a win over Houston. The Lady Techsters posted wins over a pair of SEC foes in Alabama and Ole Miss during the season.
Despite a rash of injuries, the Bulldog basketball team recorded a 20-win season for the sixth time in the last seven years, dominating opponents at home to a tune of a 15-1 record (the best by any C-USA program). Tech defeated eventual NIT semifinalist Wichita State in its opener, handing the Shockers only their fourth home loss in their last 76 games.
Softball recorded one of the best seasons in program history, posting 45 wins (second most ever) and claiming both the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles and the program's 11th appearance in an NCAA Regional. Jazlyn Crowder was named C-USA Player of the Year, Lindsay Edwards was named C-USA Freshman of the Year and Mark Montgomery was named Coach of the Year. Senior Morgan Turkoly was one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award while earning first team all-American honors.
The Bulldog baseball team recorded four wins over Top 25 opponents on their way to 34 victories and a third place finish in the Conference USA standings. Tech's wins included a dominating 12-1 victory over LSU in Baton Rouge, the largest home loss by the Tigers since 2007, and a 12-7 road win over Arkansas. David Leal was selected in the 38th round of the MLB Draft by the Oakland A's.
Bowling saw Kaitlyn Eder named as a National Tenpin Coaches Association (NTCA) third team All-American as well as a first team all-Southland Bowling League selection. The team recorded a mark of 64-41 and a Top 25 national ranking throughout the season, finishing ranked No. 22.
Rookie James Swash earned Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors for the Bulldog golf program, while setting the mark for the lowest scoring average (73.45) by a first year player in program history.
The Tech track and field team saw Cole Courtois (pole vault) and Denzel Harper (long jump) qualify for the NCAA East Preliminaries, giving it 132 qualifiers since the east and west preliminary championship format began in 2010. Courtois earned second team all-American honors by finishing 18th at the NCAA National Championships.
Techster tennis posted an 11-win season, including a seven-match win streak, as senior Sonia Chen cracked the top 10 in career dual singles and doubles victories. Chen was named first team all-state.