Jody Long enters the 2016 softball season as the longest tenured and winningest head coach among Northeast Mississippi Community College’s nine intercollegiate athletic programs.
Long helped build a powerhouse on the diamond alongside Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) and Northeast Sports Hall of Fame member David Carnell. The Tigers have qualified for the state playoffs in 13 out of 14 years since transitioning from slow-pitch competition to fast-pitch in 2001.
His last edition finished as the third place team in the MACJC North Division to once again qualify for the postseason. Northeast fell to eventual national runner-up East Central Community College in a best-of-three opening round series.
A record 10 Tigers received MACJC All-North Division accolades while Chelsea Gates (Houston) and Alyssa Vanlandingham (Hampton, Ark.) were placed on the MACJC All-State lineup. Vanlandingham became the fifth Northeast standout to ink a NCAA Division I scholarship when she signed with the University of Tennessee at Martin.
The 2014 version of the Tigers fell to Jones County Junior College in opening round playoff action. Chelsea Buntin (Glen) was named the MACJC North Division most valuable player after the campaign was complete while five others were selected for postseason honors as well.
Long’s Tigers finished with a 23-15-1 overall record and 15-9 mark in the MACJC North Division one year earlier. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College got the best of Northeast in the opening game of the MACJC State Tournament in Perkinston, but a handful of Tigers were recognized for their sharp play on the field of competition.
Andrea Cutts (Ackerman) and Bianca Chagolla (Riverside, Calif.) were selected to the MACJC All-State team while Erin Dixson (Amherst, N.Y.), Haleigh Moffett (West Lauderdale), Ellen Tarrant (New Albany), Victoria White (Mooreville) and Dana Glissen (Kossuth) were each named to the MACJC All-North Division team along with Cutts and Chagolla.
Cutts received recognition around the entire country after becoming the thirteenth softball player in Northeast history to be recognized as an All-American. She and Tarrant both signed scholarships to continue their careers at Eckerd (Fla.) College and Delta State University, respectively.
Long reached a personal milestone as well during the 2013 campaign when the New Albany native won his 200th career victory as head coach of the Tigers against rival Itawamba Community College on April 23.
The New Albany native led the Tigers to top three finishes in both the MACJC State Tournament and the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in 2012. In the MACJC State Tournament at Itawamba, Northeast brought back the state runner-up trophy.
Northeast finished the season with a 32-19 record and posted a school-record for MACJC North Division wins with 17. The Tigers finished second to Jones County at the MACJC State Tournament and then continued its postseason momentum at the regional competition at Clinton’s Traceway Park.
Long’s Tigers were successful in the classroom as well with seven members selected for National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Student-Athlete Academic Awards. The team as a whole was honored by the NJCAA as well for its scholastic prowess.
Northeast was ranked as the thirteenth best team in the nation with a 3.42 overall GPA on a 4.0 scale and was fifth countrywide in the National Fast-Pitch Coaches Association’s (NFCA) rankings.
Northeast’s highlight of 2012 came during its annual StrikeOut Cancer doubleheader. Jaisa Emerson (Cincinnati, Ohio) threw a perfect game against Mississippi Delta Community College while Dixson followed that with a no-hitter in the nightcap.
By the end of that campaign, Northeast was receiving votes in the NJCAA Division II nationwide rankings.
Long and the Tigers turned the corner during the 2011 season when Northeast qualified for the MACJC State Tournament in Perkinston after missing out the year before. The Tigers gave host Mississippi Gulf Coast a run in the quarterfinals of the single-elimination event before seeing its season come to an end with a 25-23 record.
Just a year prior, Northeast was able to collect multiple wins during the second half of the season to close the 2010 campaign on a positive note. However, the Tigers missed qualifying for the MACJC State Tournament for the only time in program history.
Long took the reins of the program from Carnell in 2006 and kept Northeast moving in a positive direction during his first years as commander-in-chief.
Following postseason berths in both of his first two years, Northeast’s 2008 team found its stride. The Tigers compiled a 34-20 overall record, including a 14-3 mark versus league foes that helped Northeast secure its seventh MACJC North Division championship in the previous eight years.
In his first season as head coach, Long led the Tigers to a 32-23 mark and their sixth consecutive MACJC North Division title. Northeast also registered runner-up finishes in both the MACJC State Tournament and NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.
After attending Northeast as a student and working as a manager for the baseball program under Northeast Hall of Fame coach Ray Scott, Long returned to Booneville in the spring of 1997 to complete an internship through the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss).
He joined the Northeast family full time that summer as the director of the college’s health and fitness center, which he planned and developed, and as assistant director of student activities.
Since then, Long has become an instrumental member of the Northeast athletic family, helping turn the Tiger softball program into a perennial powerhouse.
The Tigers won the MACJC North Division championship for six consecutive years (2001-06). Northeast has hosted the MACJC State Tournament twice in 2002 and 2004.
Long's crew battled through the loser’s bracket of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in 2003 to clinch the title and punch a bid to the NJCAA National Tournament.
Northeast’s softball team was the only team in NJCAA Region 23 to play in every regional championship matchup from 2001-06.
Following the 2003 campaign, he was named NFCA Division II South Region Coach of the Year. Long has also served as the president of the MACJC Softball Coaches Association since 2003 and was named the All-Region/All-American Director through the NFCA in 2001.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and leisure management (ESLM) from Ole Miss. Long obtained a master’s degree in education administration from the same institution in December 2000.
Long is a member of the Booneville Church of Christ. He and his wife Wendi have three sons, Anderson, Thomas and Sullivan.
Kevin Connell is excited about transitioning from one diamond sport to the other and joining one of the most tradition-rich ball clubs in the Magnolia State.
Connell has been tabbed as the new assistant coach for the Northeast Mississippi Community College softball team, which has qualified for the postseason in 14 of its 16 seasons of fast-pitch competition.
The Johnson City, Tenn., native will actually begin his second season at Northeast this spring. Connell served as a volunteer assistant for the baseball program during the 2016 campaign.
He was the first base coach for Northeast baseball one season ago and also focused on refining the offensive techniques of individual student-athletes during practice sessions.
Connell instructed several of the state’s top hitters, including Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) All-State selection Bailey Walker. He had team-highs of a .375 batting average, 11 doubles, four triples, three home runs and 31 RBIs.
He also advised Garrison Howell, who topped the Tigers with 52 hits, 35 runs and 23 walks. Howell also wielded a .374 batting average, a .460 on-base percentage and 18 RBIs.
Connell guided Northeast to its third 20-plus win baseball season in the last four years. He looks to do the same during the 2017 campaign with a softball squad that is accustomed to competing at the highest level.
Connell was a three-sport standout at Daniel Boone (Tenn.) High School. He was an Under Armour All-American baseball athlete that posted an earned run average (ERA) of 3.16 during his junior campaign.
He signed with the Military College of South Carolina (The Citadel) and completed a stellar career inside the rugged Southern Conference (SoCon) as primarily a relief pitcher.
Connell appeared in 94 games during his tenure with the Bulldogs and was the winning pitcher in four of those contests. He compiled 170.2 innings on the mound with 104 strikeouts compared to 84 walks.
His overall ERA at The Citadel was a 5.92, but he trimmed that to a 3.74 as a senior. He picked up wins that year against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and East Tennessee State University.
Connell had the chance to toe the rubber against some of the top college programs in the country, including the University of South Carolina and reigning national champion Coastal Carolina (S.C.) University.
He was tabbed to the SoCon All-Freshman team in 2012 after compiling a 3.86 ERA in six league starts for the Bulldogs. Connell tossed 60 innings total that campaign with 34 strikeouts.
Connell led The Citadel to the SoCon Tournament championship game during his sophomore season by starting the semifinal matchup against Appalachian State (N.C.) University and throwing the initial 3.2 frames.