The first-ever head coach of the Georgia Gwinnett College softball program, Kat Ihlenburg has developed the Grizzlies into a championship squad built upon toughness, character and a devotion to its community.
Named head coach at GGC on February 1, 2012, Ihlenburg has already led the Grizzlies to an Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) tournament championship, a trip to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national tournament, and recognition as the NAIA Champions of Character team award winner. Through three full seasons, the Grizzly softball program has totaled a 94-52-1 (.639) record and is coming off back-to-back 30-plus-win seasons entering 2016.
Ihlenburg was named A.I.I. Co-Coach of the Year in 2015, leading the Grizzlies to their first-ever conference title and national tournament bid.
The 2015 GGC squad posted a 37-16 record under Ihlenburg and was marked by a dominating performance at home at the Grizzly Softball Complex. The Grizzlies went 26-2 in Lawrenceville on the season, winning their first 22 consecutive home games to start the year. Senior infielder Cassidy Littlefield cemented herself as one of the top players in the country, earning her second straight NAIA First-Team All-American nod and being named unanimous A.I.I. Player of the Year. Littlefield, who led the nation in triples (8), was third in runs scored (75) and stood sixth in stolen bases (40), was a leader for Ihlenburg’s squad that led the NAIA with 35 total triples and stood 10th with 99 doubles. A number of additional Grizzlies stood inside the nation’s top 25 in several offensive categories. Junior outfielder Abby Hulsey, who ranked eighth in the country with 20 doubles, was named A.I.I. Newcomer of the Year, while junior pitcher Ashley Beyke, who had a 2.74 ERA in a team-high 117.2 innings, earned A.I.I. Co-Pitcher of the Year honors. Eight total Grizzlies, including four first-teamers, took home all-conference accolades. The Grizzlies rolled to a 32-14 regular season record and the No. 3 seed for the A.I.I. tournament, which was held in Lawrenceville for the second straight year. A perfect four-game run, including an epic 10-inning victory to reach the finals, sealed the first-ever postseason title for Ihlenburg’s team. GGC reached a No. 21 national ranking heading into its first NAIA national tournament, as the Grizzlies were sent to a regional hosted by defending national champion Auburn Montgomery (Ala.). While the trip saw the Grizzlies earn a 1-0 victory over Tennessee Wesleyan for the program’s first-ever NAIA postseason win, a pair of close defeats to No. 20 Davenport would end GGC’s stellar season.
The 2014 season, GGC’s first as a fully-eligible NAIA member, saw Ihlenburg lay a championship foundation for her program by guiding Georgia Gwinnett to an outstanding 39-10-1 record. The Grizzlies earned votes for the first time in the Top 25 Coaches’ Poll, claimed their first-ever postseason victory, and boasted four all-conference selections, including A.I.I. Co-Player of the Year Cassidy Littlefield.
Littlefield would go on to become the program’s first-ever All-American in 2014, earning first-team status after finishing second in the country with 1.80 hits per game, and finishing inside the nation’s top 10 in 11 different offensive categories. As a team, the Grizzlies made huge strides from the previous season, raising their year-over-year batting average from .289 to .340 and their total scoring from 226 runs to 351, while lowering the pitching staff’s ERA from 4.54 to 2.92. Ihlenburg’s squad particularly hit its stride during the final month of the year, going 22-3-1 to end the regular season. That set the Grizzlies up to host postseason action for the first time with the 2014 A.I.I. Softball Championships in Lawrenceville. The Grizzlies came out swinging, tasting victory in their first chance to do so with a 5-2 win over Lindenwood-Belleville on May 1. GGC then pushed the nation’s No. 3 team to the edge in an eight-inning slugfest, but eventually fell, 14-13, to top-seeded LSU Alexandria. The Grizzlies would be eliminated from the tournament the following day, but not before setting the tone that big things were in store for Ihlenburg’s program.
The most prestigious team award came after 2014 competition had ended. For its outstanding efforts embracing the NAIA’s core values, the GGC squad was named the 2014 Buffalo Funds NAIA Champions of Character Softball Team award winner, being selected from the NAIA’s 200 softball-playing institutions. The Grizzlies take part in numerous community efforts, including working with Special Olympics Georgia and Relay for Life, plus volunteer at many on-campus events and hold youth clinics in the area. Building leaders of character focused on service to the community have been hallmarks of Ihlenburg’s program.
The 2014 year was also the first full season for GGC playing in the sparkling new Grizzly Softball Complex. Opened on April 17, 2013, the final day of GGC’s inaugural campaign, the Grizzly Softball Complex is the state-of-the-art, on-campus facility that Ihlenburg’s squad calls home. The facility features a top-notch natural grass playing surface and bleacher seating for 500, among its other highlights, and sits just steps away from the Grizzly Softball locker room and Grizzly Athletics Building.
The 2013 season, when GGC was not yet eligible for national rankings, awards or postseason play, saw Ihlenburg build out Georgia Gwinnett’s very first roster, coaching staff and competitive schedule. The Grizzlies did not yet have a permanent facility to call home, so the team played much of its season away from home and also utilized another local venue in going 18-26 overall. Ihlenburg steered the Grizzlies to an upset of #9 Reinhardt (Ga.), an eventual 2013 NAIA national championship participant, during the season. The victory was one of 12 games against the NAIA's Top 25 as Ihlenburg's team tackled a challenging first-year schedule.
Ihlenburg brought eight years of previous collegiate softball coaching experience to her position at Georgia Gwinnett College.
She spent seven years as an assistant at the College of Charleston (S.C.) to then-head coach Shelly Hoerner, for whom she played collegiately. During Ihlenburg's time with the Cougars, 26 players were selected as All-Conference members for the Southern Conference. Two athletes were named conference Player of the Year and one Pitcher of the Year, while three players were named to the Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I All-Region team.
Prior to her time in Charleston, Ihlenburg spent one season on the staff at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Ga.
As a player, Ihlenburg caught and played outfield for Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. She helped guide the Buccaneers to the 2002 Division II College World Series and set a new school single-season wins record. She graduated from Barry in 2004 with a bachelor of arts in public relations.
Long around the game of baseball as a player and coach, John Ihlenburg joined the Grizzly softball staff prior to the 2013-14 season.
He assists with day-to-day operations and instruction. Born in New York, Ihlenburg lived in Portland, Oregon before attending high school in Canton, Massachusetts. He started his collegiate career playing football at Wake Forest University before transferring to the University of Connecticut to play baseball.
He is a graduate of UConn where he was an NCAA All-America selection, as well as a two time Academic All-America. A team captain, Ihlenburg was awarded the Eastern Athletic Conference Medallion for Athletic and Academic Prowess and was an All Region, All Conference selection.
He spent three years in the Cape Cod Baseball League and played for the Kansas City Royals organization after graduation.
Ihlenburg went on to coach at Fairfield University and Oglethorpe University before joining the staff at Reinhardt University in 2004. He served as head coach for the Eagles until 2013.
Outside of baseball, Ihlenburg flew the A-7E and A-4 and served as a Commander in the US Navy before retiring after 22 years of service.
He also flew as a Captain for Delta Airlines on the B-727, B-737, B-757 and B-767 aircraft.
Ihlenburg is the father-in-law of GGC head coach Kat Ihlenburg, who is married to John's son Mark, also a former baseball player at UConn.
John and his wife Kathy have another son, Greg, a record-holder at Reinhardt, and currently reside in Canton, Ga.