LA Tech Athletics Shines, Yet Again, in 2016-17

June 30, 2017

RUSTON – Louisiana Tech’s footprint within the athletic arena continues to grow regionally and nationally as the University saw its student-athletes excel in the classroom and on the playing fields once again in 2016-17.

It marks yet another highly successful year for the Bulldog and Lady Techster teams and culminates a four-year run that began with three impactful moves.

Louisiana Tech President Les Guice took over the reins of the University on July 1, 2013, the same day that the Tier One institution officially made the move to Conference USA. Just 16 days later, Guice introduced Tommy McClelland as Tech’s new director of athletics.

The culmination of that trifecta of events has led to an impressive four-year athletic run in Ruston, solidifying Louisiana Tech behind only LSU in the state’s athletic hierarchy.

Combine the success on the playing fields with the over $50 million invested in athletic facility improvements with increased enrollment with the academic home runs that the University continues to belt and Louisiana Tech has broken away from the majority of the regional pack during the last four years.

Tech fans hope it is just the beginning of the University strengthening its foothold in the state and conference as a well-rounded, championship level athletic program.

“We have been able to make some tremendous strides in a lot of areas since joining Conference USA,” said McClelland. “The league has provided us a better geographical home and the competition within it has helped us elevate our play. The leadership that Dr. Guice provides the University and athletics department is a big reason for our success over the past four years.

“Our alumni and supporters have stepped up financially, allowing us to invest much needed dollars into new construction as well as facility improvements. Our coaches are recruiting top caliber student-athletes and those student-athletes are representing the University in a first class manner. Our goal is to build champions on the field, in the classroom and in life and we feel that we have been successful in this. We want to continue to build upon these successes in the coming years.”

From individual stories to team achievements to overall department milestones, 2016-17 was filled with plenty of highlights, providing Louisiana Tech fans plenty of reasons to hold their heads high.

How well-rounded was 2016-17 for Louisiana Tech’s athletic programs?

Louisiana Tech became only the second C-USA program to finish in the top 5 in football, women’s basketball, men’s basketball, baseball, softball and soccer in the same season in league’s history.

LA Tech was one of only seven Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the country to have 9-plus football wins, 20-plus men’s basketball wins, 35-plus baseball wins and 35-plus softball wins this season. Tech joined BYU as the only two non-Power 5 programs to achieve this feat.

And the Bulldog football program was just one of four Division I FBS programs to win 9 or more games and a bowl game in each of the last three seasons, joining Wisconsin, Clemson and Utah.

Pretty impressive company.

The year started in the fall with the Bulldog football team lighting up opposing defenses on its way to a 9-5 record, a berth in the Conference USA championship game and a 48-45 win over No. 25 Navy in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Ft. Worth.

Skip Holtz earned Conference USA Coach of the Year while quarterback Ryan Higgins was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Wide receiver Carlos Henderson was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year, a first ever in Conference USA history.

For the second straight season, Louisiana Tech had three players taken in the NFL Draft in Carlos Henderson (3rd round – Denver Broncos), Trent Taylor (5th round – San Francisco 49ers) and Xavier Woods (6th round – Dallas Cowboys). LA Tech now has more NFL Draft Picks (10) since 2013 than any other team in Conference USA.

As impressive as all of those accomplishments were, they all paled in comparison to the program’s biggest win – sophomore running back Jaqwis Dancy’s victory over Stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma.

The offseason has seen Joe Aillet Stadium get an additional facelift with the demolition of the 48-year-old press box and the construction of a new $18 million press box and suites as well as west side renovations, including new LED stadium lighting. It will open for Tech’s season opener against Northwestern State Sept. 2.

LA Tech soccer team defied the preseason coaches polls. The Lady Techsters won a program record six conference matches to finish 5th – after being picked 11th in the preseason – and qualified for the C-USA Tournament for third straight year. Along the way Kevin Sherry recorded his 100th career win in Ruston and was tabbed the Louisiana Sports Writers Association State Coach of the Year.

Senior Katie Sloan capped off her stellar career by becoming the first player in program history to earn first team all-Conference USA honors. Sloan, an NCAA Woman of the Year nominee, was named the 2016 CoSIDA Academic All-America of the Year for Division I Women’s Soccer.

On the volleyball court, the Lady Techsters continued to take strides, recording the most wins by the program since 2010, including reeling off four straight C-USA victories – the longest streak since 2009. Head coach Adriano de Souza became the first coach in the program’s history to improve their win total in each of the first five seasons in Ruston.

The winter saw the return of the Bulldogs and the Lady Techsters on the hardwood. Second year head coach Erik Konkol led the Bulldogs to 23 wins for the second straight year, marking the fifth straight 23-plus win season for the program. The Bulldogs are one of only 13 teams in the country to register 23-plus wins in each of the last five seasons.

Despite being one of the youngest teams in the league and being picked to finish seventh in the preseason, the Bulldogs registered 14 league wins to finish second. Point guard DaQuan Bracey became the fourth Bulldog in program history and the first since 2012 to be named Conference Freshman of the Year, setting the program and conference record for single season assists by a freshman with 193.

Another team that overachieved based on external expectations were the Lady Techster basketball program. Picked to finish 12th in the preseason coaches’ poll, head coach Brooke Stoehr and Co. posted 18 wins and finished fourth in the 14-team league. The Lady Techsters earned a berth into the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the program’s first postseason appearance since 2011. Both the 18 wins and the 12 league wins were the most by a Lady Techster team since 2010-11 and its seven-game conference winning streak late in the year was the longest in seven seasons.

The spring saw more success for LA Tech teams led by the Lady Techster softball squad. Fifth year head coach Mark Montgomery led Tech to 38 wins, the Conference USA Tournament title and the program’s first NCAA Regional appearance since 2008.

Tech easily won the West Division crown by four games and then fought its way through the elimination bracket in Hattiesburg, posting a 4-2 win over 23rd ranked and regular season champion Marshall to make it to the title game. The Techsters then defeated FIU 1-0 in the championship game to earn a spot in the Tuscaloosa Regional.

Montgomery and Co. took the No. 1 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers to extra innings before falling in the third day of the regional. Montgomery earned LSWA Coach of the Year honors while a program record six players earned C-USA all-league honors.

On the baseball diamond, first year head coach Lane Burroughs led the Bulldogs to 36 wins, including victories over Top 25 teams in Arkansas, UL-Lafayette and McNeese State as well as a win over SEC foe Mississippi State in Starkville. It marked the first back-to-back 35-plus win seasons in more than 25 years for Tech.

A record number of season ticket holders saw Tech record a 22-7 home record (45-12 in last two years) as the Bulldogs held the nation’s longest home winning streak of 15 games after its win over Arkansas on Feb. 28.

Senior Nate Harris earned the Conference USA Pitcher of the Year and was a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award while catcher Brent Diaz was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award. Harris and Diaz joined teammate Raphael Gladu as selections in the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft in June.

First year head coach Amanda Stone led the Lady Techster tennis team to a 12-win season as senior Jazmin Britos earned second team all-CUSA and all-state honors after finishing her career with 51 dual wins, third most in program history.

The Bulldog golf team set a new school record for a team-low round of 276 (12-under-par) on the final day of the Old Waverly Collegiate Championships hosted by Mississippi State while senior Charles Neel White shot a 66, tying for the fourth lowest round in Tech history.

Louisiana Tech saw three track and field student-athletes qualify for the NCAA East Preliminary Outdoor Championships as Chloe Lautric (high jump), Janiel McDonald (long jump) and Tamario Lattin (high jump) represented the University in Lexington, Kent.

Four members of the cross country squad qualified and competed at the 2016 NCAA South Central Regional in Fayetteville led by Kacie Kaufman, Elia Nero, Manoah Kiptum and Austin Ballow.

First year head coach Matt Nantais took over the reins of the Lady Techster bowling team which defeated Top 10 ranked Maryland-Eastern Shore at the Mid-Winter Classic. Senior Shelby Smith and Sarah McComick earned National Tenpin Coaches Association Academic All-American honors.

Off the playing field, the LA Tech Athletics Department had a stellar year as well. Fifty-five student-athletes earned their bachelor's or master's degrees while 174 made the C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll and 44 received the C-USA Commissioner's Academic Medal.

Ten student-athletes earned Conference USA All-Academic honors led by Katie Sloan (soccer), Madison Doll (soccer), Morgan Turkoly (softball), Jacie McClure (volleyball), Graham Ahlrich (baseball), Kent Hasler (baseball), Xavier Woods (football), Kacie Kaufman (T&F), Morgan Keesee (T&F) and Drake Heinz (T&F).

Brandon Lewis-Graham (Cross Country), Kevione Moten (women’s basketball) and Jordan Patrick (track and field) were all recipients of the Conference USA Spirit of Service Award.

Louisiana Tech’s student-athletes recorded a Graduation Success Rate (GSR) above 80 percent for the fourth straight year while also graduating at a higher rate than the student body, according to the NCAA’s 2016 Graduation Success Rate data.

Tech alumni and fans also continued to buy in to the vision for the athletic department as the Louisiana Tech Athletics Club (LTAC) set an all-time high in total LTAC giving and most total LTAC donors.

The Athletics Department announced its 16th Hall of Fame class in mid-June as Denny Duron, Tommy Joe Eagles, Pam Gant, Dale Holeman, Pat Tilley, Luke McCown and Keith Prince will be enshrined this coming fall.

In late June LA Tech alum and NCAA Vice President Sue Donohoe was enshrined into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches as the recipient of the Dave Dixon Award for Sports Leadership.

Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap also earned his fourth straight appearance in the NBA All-Star game while New England Patriots punter Ryan Allen was part of that franchises Super Bowl win over Atlanta.

It was another memorable year for Louisiana Tech Athletics, its student-athletes and coaches. And mostly, its fans.

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