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, two trips to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national tournament, and recognition as the NAIA Champions of Character team award winner. Through four seasons, the Grizzly softball program has totaled a 138-71-1 (.657) record and is coming off back-to-back-to-back 30-plus-win seasons entering 2017.
Ihlenburg was named A.I.I. Co-Coach of the Year in 2015 and 2016, leading the Grizzlies to their first-ever conference title in 2015 and two NAIA national tournament bids (2015, 2016).
In 2016, Georgia Gwinnett finished with a program best and single-season record 44 wins. The centralized theme of continuity was an ever-present factor throughout the season as the Grizzlies continued to build their program and establish its standard of achieving excellence for years to come. While GGC started the season as the 21st-ranked squad in the NAIA Coaches' Poll, the Grizzlies worked their way to a No. 9 ranking at its height, before finishing the regular season at No. 13. The Grizzlies finished as the A.I.I. tournament runner-up and served as host for the NAIA National Championship Tournament Opening Round Gwinnett Bracket. Senior Ashley Beyke was named the A.I.I. Pitcher of the Year while first baseman Hailey Burnham was tabbed as the A.I.I. Newcomer of the Year. GGC posted the most All-A.I.I. selections with six receiving First Team honors (Beyke, Alycia Fields, Burnham, Tori Heinemann, and Brashante Dareus) and two receiving Second Team Honors (Katie Lange and Haley Thompson). Dareus and Fields also received NFCA All-East Region First Team selections.
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.
Ihlenburg serves as a member of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) and has spent multiple seasons coaching abroad- in Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic and the Dominican Republic- for USA Athletes International and American International Sports Teams. She also has directed and been an instructor for softball camps at Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia Tech, the College of Charleston, the University of Alabama, North Carolina State University, Reinhardt University, Tennessee Tech and the University of Tennessee. The Grizzly Softball Complex routinely plays host to elite showcases and other prospect events with organizations such as On Deck Softball, Champions Fastpitch Academy and College Coaches Skills Camp thanks in large part to Ihlenburg’s efforts.
Ihlenburg grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and graduated from Father Ryan High School. She and her husband, Mark, have two children, Elizabeth and Reid, and reside in Gwinnett County.
Tonya Medders enters her first year as the Grizzlies' Assistant Softball Coach.
With the Grizzlies, Medders' responsibilities will include recruiting, coaching and training, and supporting head coach Kat Ihlenburg in the day-to-day operation of the softball program.
Medders joins the Grizzlies after spending the 2016 season as the assistant coach with the University of West Georgia, an NCAA Division II program.
Prior to arriving at West Georgia, Medders served as the head coach at Central Arizona for one season. There, Medders led the Vaqueras to a 22-win season, qualifying for the NJCAA Region I playoffs.
Medders spent three years as the assistant coach at Berry College, an NCAA Division III program located in Rome, Ga. Medders joined the Berry softball program as its graduate assistant coach in June 2011 after a stellar playing career at the NCAA Division II level and a stint as a head coach of an NCAA Division III institution. While at Berry, Medders assisted the Vikings with recruiting, academic affairs, and player development. She served as the pitching coach and also worked with infielders and offense. After spending two years as the graduate assistant, Medders became the first assistant coach at Berry College in the fall of 2013.
She spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons as the head coach at Wesleyan College, overseeing all on-field and administrative coaching responsibilities.
Medders also has coaching experience as a pitching, infield, and hitting instructor in the central and northwest Georgia areas as well as South Florida. She has also served as a camp counselor at a number of camps including Berry College, Georgia College, Polk State College, and Middle Georgia Diamond Camp.
As a student-athlete, Medders played for Georgia College, earning All-Peach Belt Conference honors as a first baseman, as well as all NCAA Southeast Regional All-Tournament honors during her senior year with the Bobcats. Medders also earned PBC All-Tournament and Daktronics All-Atlantic Region Second Team honors as a junior for the Bobcats in 2008.
She transferred to Georgia College from Polk State College in Winter Haven, Fla., where she pitched and played the corners as a freshman and sophomore. While at Polk State, Medders was named to the All-Suncoast Conference second team and earned PCC's Female Athlete of the Year award in 2007.
Medders owns an Associate of Arts degree from Polk State and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology with a minor in health education from Georgia College in 2010. She completed her Master of Education degree at Berry College in 2013.
A native of West Palm Beach, Fla., Medders resides in Grayson.
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 Buford, Ga.