Jay Nelson continues his successful turnaround of the Rutgers softball program as he enters his eighth year. With a solid foundation built, RU looks to keep moving upward in its first and only season in the American Athletic Conference. The Scarlet Knights set their sights on an American Athletic Conference Championship after falling just short of reaching the BIG EAST Championships in their final year in the conference.
The Scarlet Knights reached new heights in 2013, reaching 30 wins for just the fourth time in the 38-year history of the program and first time in Nelson’s tenure. RU recorded the second-most doubles (78) in program history, tied for third in home runs (28), recorded the third-most RBIs (221) and tied for the third-most shutouts (12). Rutgers fell one game short of qualifying for the BIG EAST Championships, losing to Pittsburgh in the season-finale. A win would have given the program its fourth consecutive trip to the conference tournament.
With Nelson at the helm again in 2012, the Scarlet Knights recorded their highest win total (26) since winning the same number of games during the 2003 season. RU eventually fell, 5-0, to BIG EAST runner-up, Notre Dame, in the first round of the BIG EAST Tournament, but recorded nine conference wins for only the third time in the past 10 years.
Nelson led his 2011 squad to its first back-to-back BIG EAST Tournament berths in 13 years. Despite falling to DePaul in the tournament for the second-straight season, the Scarlet Knights finished the year ranked nationally – out of 289 teams – in stolen bases (23rd), doubles per game (28th), batting average (35th), scoring (39th), slugging percentage (55th) and double plays per game (61st).
The 2010 season saw the Scarlet Knights reach their first BIG EAST Championship since 1998. Rutgers finished its campaign with the most wins overall (24) and best winning percentage (.444) since 2004 (25, .462). The Scarlet Knights’ nine conference wins were the most since 2002 (9).
In 2009, RU matched its win total from the previous year, finishing 23-33 overall and 6-18 in conference play. Three players hit for above .300 for the second time in Nelson’s tenure – a feat that had not been accomplished since 2004 before his hire.
In Nelson’s inaugural campaign, his squad amassed a 20-34 overall record, matching the combined win totals of the previous two seasons (15 in 2006, 5 in 2005). The Scarlet Knights also picked up seven victories in conference play, marking the most BIG EAST wins since the 2004 season.
Nelson saw his players received postseason accolades for the fourth-time in his six years “On the Bank,” following the 2011 campaign. Senior Mandy Craig was named to the All-BIG EAST Second Team for the second time in three seasons, while junior Brittney Lindley earned NFCA All-Region First Team honors after making the second team in 2010.
In 2008, left fielder Amanda Heller earned All-BIG EAST Second Team honors under Nelson’s guidance. Infielder Sarah Kalka, a First Team All-BIG EAST selection in 2007, was also named to the Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I All-Northeast Region Second Team and ECAC Division I All-Star Team.
Academics continue to be a staple of Nelson’s programs, as 13 players were recognized on the 2013 BIG EAST Academic All-Star Team. The squad earned the Big East Team Academic Excellence Award for the 2012-13 school year recording a 3.464 GPA to earn the honor.
Five student-athletes were named 2010 girls got game All-America Scholar-Athletes by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), acquiring a 3.5 GPA or higher.
Prior to taking over the Rutgers program, Nelson completed 10 seasons as the top assistant coach on the highly successful staff at Seton Hall University. While at Seton Hall, he helped guide the Pirates to BIG EAST Conference championships in 2004 and 2005, and runner-up finishes in 1999 and 2001. The Pirates advanced to the NCAA Softball Tournament three times during Nelson’s tenure.
Nelson’s responsibilities at Seton Hall included serving as the team’s defensive coordinator and on-field coach. He also handled recruiting, and organizing practice sessions. Nelson was also in charge of the day-to-day and long-term management of many program-related functions, including serving as the liaison in such areas as academic support, facilities, travel, equipment, and strength and conditioning.
Twice during Nelson’s tenure at Seton Hall, the Pirates’ coaching staff, under head coach Ray Vander May, was honored as the NFCA Northeast Region Coaching Staff of the Year. Nelson joined the Seton Hall program in 1996.
Prior to his tenure at Seton Hall, Nelson served as head coach at Mountain Lakes High School for 12 seasons (1985-96), guiding the Lakers to state championships in 1988, 1991 and 1993. He was named New Jersey High School Softball Coach of the Year in 1993, and was named Morris County Area High School Coach of the Year in 1988 and 1991.
elson was also an assistant coach with the Clifton Charmers, one of the top ASA programs in New Jersey. He guided the team to a fifth-place finish in the 1996 ASA National Tournament.
Nelson, a 1974 graduate of St. Olaf College (Minn.), played competitively for the New Jersey Windmillers fast pitch team, and during that time participated in five World Tournaments and six National Championships, including a third place finish in 1996. Nelson also serves as the Vice President of BIG EAST Coaches Association. In 2009, Nelson was selected to the NFCA Top 25 poll committee, the ESPN/USA Top 25 poll committee and the ESPN/USA Player of the Year committee.
Nelson and his wife Gayle reside in Mount Tabor, N.J. with their daughter Jessica, a graduate of UCLA. The Nelsons became grandparents of twins Kenzie and Hayley in November of 2010.