HANCEVILLE, ALA. – A.J. Daugherty has always admired and respected Wallace State's softball program from afar.
Daugherty is now in charge of the two-time national championship program, as announced by Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics on Friday.
Daugherty, 29, inherits the Wallace State coaching job after four seasons at James Clemens High School in Madison, where he built the program from the ground up beginning in 2012 and led the Lady Jets to a top ranking in Class 7A this past season and a final four finish at the state tournament.
"Ever since I've been involved with softball, Wallace State is a job that I've always said I would love to have," said Daugherty, a 2004 Leroy High School graduate. "We worked really hard to create something special at James Clemens, so it took a program like Wallace State for me to leave. I'm extremely excited to be at Wallace State, and I think we have an unbelievable opportunity to expand upon something that's very special and already in place. Our focus is going to be creating the right kind of culture that's conducive to producing champions on and off the field."
Months before his 30th birthday, Daugherty has come full circle within the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC). He was a student assistant with the Shelton State softball program in 2005 and then transferred to the University of Alabama where he served on the Crimson Tide softball support staff for two seasons.
Upon graduating Alabama, Daugherty's initial head softball job was at Holy Spirit in Tuscaloosa in 2008. He led the Lady Titans to their first area and regional championships and lone state tournament appearance before moving on to coach at American Christian Academy.
Daugherty moved to the Tennessee Valley in August 2012, becoming the first softball coach in James Clemens history as the school was introduced in Madison.
"The first years at James Clemens were very humbling. We had hardly any juniors or seniors. Most of those decided to stay at Bob Jones. I had come right out of the gate from winning at Holy Spirit and ACA and learned and grew so much because I had to understand a different way to go about things. I had to appreciate different aspects of the game and not necessarily just focus on the scoreboard. The scoreboard wasn't going to always tell me the things I wanted to see and the improvements we were making. I had to keep in mind what the big picture was," Daugherty said. "Once we made it to the state tournament this past season, it was just an unbelievable experience. The coolest part was seeing the freshmen from the first year stick with it and grow and reap the benefits during their senior seasons."
Daugherty is replacing retired coach Jayne Clem and interim coach Jeff Benson at Wallace State. Clem established Wallace State into perennial power, both in the conference and nationally.
Since 2003, Wallace State softball has won 10 ACCC tournament championships, 11 consecutive ACCC North Division titles, a pair of NJCAA Division I national championships (2008, 2013) and finished national runner-up twice.
The Lady Lions finished the 2016 season with a 49-22 record after making their 10th NJCAA national tournament appearance. The Lady Lions advanced to the national event for the second consecutive year and eighth time in 10 seasons.
Whether at Shelton State or at James Clemens, Daugherty has held the Wallace State softball program in high esteem.
"When I was at Shelton State, I always had a lot of respect for Wallace State because you knew you were always going to have your hands full. If you earned a win over Wallace State, that was a big deal. I consider myself a winner and I wanted to be part of a culture like Wallace State has," Daugherty said. "I hope when someone plays us, they know they're going to have their hands full. That's Wallace State's reputation across the board, whether it's volleyball, baseball or basketball."
Daugherty intends to maintain the team's emphasis on outstanding academic performance as well. The Lady Lions routinely make the NJCAA list of teams that lead the nation academically. "We're going to do things the right way and make sure our players focus on becoming better student-athletes all the way around."
Daugherty also knows the cupboard isn't bare on the roster. Among the Wallace State impactful freshmen in 2016 were infielder Taylor Beshears, who was named a NJCAA 3rd-team All-American on Wednesday and was the ACCC North Division Player of the Year after setting multiple single-season offensive records, center fielder Amber Hammonds, who received ACCC North Division all-outfield recognition, infielder Karra Elam and pitchers Brittany Ledbetter and Jesse Butler.
"I've done some homework, and I'm excited to go to work with our returners. There's obviously a lot of talent already here and a strong class set to come in. The previous coaching staff has always done a good job of bringing in good talent here. We're going to continue to do that. We don't plan to miss a beat. We plan on taking a step forward. I hope our players are excited because I think even bigger things are ahead for our program," said Daugherty, a Shelton State and Alabama graduate.
Daugherty and his wife, Allison, live in Priceville. They have a 3-year-old son named Connor. Allison (Scoggin) Daugherty was an All-State pitcher at West Morgan.