Assistant Softball Coach Jenna Roberts talks about what brought her to NIU and what it means to coach here in DeKalb.
It didn't take long for Christina Sutcliffe to make her mark on the Northern Illinois University softball program. The seventh head coach in program history, Sutcliffe, a native of Crown Point, Ind., led the Huskies to the cusp of a Mid-American Conference championship in her first season at the helm of the NIU softball program.
Sutcliffe guided the Huskies to a 27-31 overall record, a 14-8 mark in league play and a run to the championship game in the 2013 MAC Softball Tournament. The Huskies opened their tournament run with a win over Sutcliffe's former school, Miami, and knocked off top-seeded Ball State, twice. However, the Huskies could not get past Central Michigan, falling to the Chippewas twice, including a 4-2 loss in 11 innings in the MAC Championship game.
In addition to team accomplishments, several Huskies distinguished themselves on an individual level. Jennifer Barnett was a Senior CLASS Award finalist and was the first Huskie to earn the Nan Harvey Award, given to a MAC player, coach or staff member who demonstrates commitment, leadership and toughness. A first team All-MAC honoree, she was one of six NFCA All-America Scholar Athlete for NIU. Fellow senior Amanda Sheppard earned a 2013 NIU Outstanding Woman Award, NFCA All-America Scholar Athlete award and was one of three Huskies named to the 2013 MAC All-Tournament Team.
While the Huskies were unable to achieve their goal of a championship, the foundation for future success was set in place. With a relatively young team in 2013, NIU had just two seniors on its squad, Sutcliffe was able to establish her philosophy quickly.
The Huskies' accomplishments of last season came as no surprise to those who know Sutcliffe's background. The 12-year coaching veteran brought an intimate knowledge of the Mid-American Conference to NIU after spending the seven seasons as an assistant coach at Miami University.
She began her tenure in Oxford, Ohio, as a pitching coach before spending the last six seasons working with RedHawk hitters and catchers. During her stay at Miami, the Redhawks won MAC Tournament titles in 2009 and 2012, advancing to the NCAA Tournament both years. In 2012, Miami complied 41 wins including 16 conference victories, both school records, and defeated No. 7 seeded Tennessee, 1-0, in its opening round contest of the NCAA Tournament.
RedHawk hitters flourished under Sutcliffe. In 2011, Miami hit for a .289 average tying the 1991 squad for highest team batting average in school history with four players hitting over .300 and eight hitting over .290. Freshman Kirstie Fehrenbach led the RedHawks with a .340 average and earned a spot of the MAC All-Freshmen Team.
Miami's catchers made great strides under Sutcliffe's tutelage as well. One of her top pupils, Jenna McGivney, threw out 55 percent of all base runners attempting to steal and was among the national leaders with eight pickoffs in 2011. In 2010, McGivney threw out 64 percent of base stealers, while picking off seven other runners. McGivney's successor, Kayla Ledbetter, earned second team All-MAC honors and was named to the league's all-tournament team in 2012.
In 2006, the Miami pitching staff, which included Courtney Salmon and Kelly Cabana, benefitted from Sutcliffe's expertise. Salmon, who ranks second on Miami's all-time strikeout list, ended the 2006 campaign with 125 K's. Cabana ranked among the Top 10 in the MAC in numerous pitching categories following the '06 season.
Sutcliffe went to Miami after three seasons as head coach at Rhode Island. Sutcliffe compiled a 42-82 overall record, including a 12-25 mark in the Atlantic 10. She posted her best season in 2003 when she led the Rams to a 20-22 record, 7-8 in conference play, and narrowly missed qualifying for the A-10 Tournament. During her tenure, she helped oversee a $68,000 renovation of the Rams' softball field in 2004 that included an overhaul of the playing surface, drainage and irrigation systems.
Sutcliffe began her collegiate coaching career as an assistant at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga in 2002. The Lady Mocs finished that season with a 44-15 record and the Southern Conference Tournament title. Working primarily with the pitching staff, the Lady Mocs posted a 1.50 earned run average in her lone season at Chattanooga. She mentored SoCon Tournament Most Valuable Player and all-conference performer Beth Alexander to a 25-7 mark with a 1.05 ERA, 22 complete games and 197 strikeouts.
In addition to her collegiate softball experience, Sutcliffe also served as head softball coach at Boynton Beach High School in 2001.
A four-year letterwinner at Florida Atlantic University from 1997-2001, Sutcliffe was a member of five Trans America Athletic Conference Tournament Championship teams. Sutcliffe, who redshirted her sophomore season, compiled a 67-23 record in the pitcher's circle with 25 shutouts and two no-hitters. She earned TAAC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors in 1997. Sutcliffe was a four-year First Team All-TAAC selection and was named to the Academic All-TAAC Team four times as well.
Sutcliffe received her bachelor's degree in mathematics in 2000 and her master's in education in 2001 from FAU.