Florida Atlantic University Head Softball Coach Joan Joyce is one of those rare people to enjoy success as both a player and a coach. After concluding an illustrious playing career that spanned parts of four decades in numerous sports, Joyce was named head coach at FAU in 1994. As Joyce enters her 27th season with the Owls, she is the only FAU softball head coach in program history, racking up eight Conference Coach of Year titles in three different conferences along the way. Under Joyce, the program's accomplishments are unparalleled: eight-consecutive Conference Championships (1997-2004) – 12 in all (2006, 2007, 2016, 2018) – and eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances (1997-2004) – 11 in all (2006, 2015, 2016).
Joyce began planting the seeds of success immediately upon taking the reins of FAU softball. She spent nine months creating a program from scratch, and the result was an impressive 33-18 record in year one. Not only did that first year earn Joyce her first Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year award, but she was also named Palm Beach County Coach of the Year.
The building effort continued in 1996, as the team finished 37-32 and advanced to its second-straight A-Sun tournament. That year also saw Joyce take on the role of Senior Woman Administrator at FAU, a position she held until 2001.
Her record run of championships began in 1997 with not only the program's first conference championship, but FAU's first A-Sun title in any sport. That success resulted in Joyce's second A-Sun Coach of the Year award. In 1998, the team repeated as A-Sun champions.
In 1999, the A-Sun was given an automatic bid to the NCAA postseason tournament for the conference champion. The Owls won their third straight A-Sun Championship and appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. FAU posted a 49-20 record, good enough to earn Joyce another A-Sun Coach of the Year award and her entire staff the Southeast Region Coaching Staff of the Year award by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
FAU would win its fourth-consecutive A-Sun title and return to the NCAA Tournament in 2000. The season also featured an 18-game winning streak and another A-Sun Coach of the Year award for Joyce. The 2001 season ended with similar results, an A-Sun title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament while finishing 46-21. Nikki Myers would go on to be Coach Joyce's first All-American at FAU, a feat the standout pitcher would accomplish again in 2002.
The Owls set a team record and led the nation with 62 wins during the 2002 season. It resulted in Joyce's fifth A-Sun Coach of the Year award and FAU received its first No. 1 seed, one of eight in the nation, for an NCAA Regional.
FAU won 31 of its last 41 games en route to the same postseason success in 2003. From 2003 to 2004, FAU's schedule was one of the toughest in the nation, as the Owls faced at least three teams that went on to the Women's College World Series.
The Owls' defense of its 2003 A-Sun title was not an easy one, as it took a dramatic doubleheader sweep of UCF in the regular-season finale to clinch the top seed for the A-Sun Championships.
With so much success, sometimes a season simply cannot match the high expectations. For Joyce and FAU, that season was 2005, when the Owls went 37-32, clinched the second seed for the A-Sun Tournament but saw their streak of conference titles and NCAA berths come to an end. Of the 32 losses, 19 came against teams that eventually qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
The year 2006 saw a return to the top, as FAU captured its ninth conference crown in 10 years during its final A-Sun campaign. FAU returned to the NCAA Tournament, where the team would advance to the regional finals, picking up a pair of shutout victories (2-0, 1-0) over Florida, the host of the regional.
FAU was undoubtedly one of the best programs during its time in the A-Sun Conference, claiming more championships (nine) than any program in the history of the A-Sun.
In 2007, the Owls came from behind to take the Sun Belt's regular-season title on the final day of conference play, and after being upset in the opening round of the conference tournament, won five straight games including a triple-header on the tournament's final day to edge out Troy 1-0 in the championship game. This would mark the program's first Sun Belt Tournament championship.
FAU sought out to defend its Sun Belt regular season and tournament titles, and actually had a better conference record (17-7) than it did its first year in the conference (16-8). However, the Owls were supplanted as regular season and tournament champions by eventual Women's College World Series participant Louisiana-Lafayette.
In 2009 the Owls struggled to a 7th place finish in the Sun Belt during the regular season, but made a run all the way to the Championship Game of the Sun Belt Tournament. Coach Joyce had two players named to both the all-conference and all-tournament teams and Caitlyn Bliss was just the fourth player in program history to be named to the NFCA All-Region First Team.
The Owls earned the fourth seed in the conference tournament in 2010, where senior pitcher Amber Barton was named to the Sun Belt All-Tournament Team. Blair Bodenmiller, who was named to the Sun Belt First Team, became Coach Joyce's first CoSIDA Academic All-American and just the second in school history. Jessica Myers and Taylor Fawbush were named Second Team All-Conference that same season.
In 2011, the Owls advanced to the Championship Game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament for the third time in five years. Heather Barnes and Rose Gressley were named to the Sun Belt All-Conference and All-Tournament teams. Gressley was also named to the NFCA All-Region Second Team.
FAU had a 15-9 league record in 2014 to mark its first season in Conference USA. The team finished the season with a 33-22 overall record, marking its first winning season since 2011. Sophomore outfielder Melissa Martinez was named to the All-C-USA First Team, while junior pitcher Samantha Messer earned Second Team All-Conference honors. Pitchers Amanda Wilson and Kylee Hanson were named to the C-USA All-Freshmen team.
A number of milestones were achieved in 2015. The Owls went 15-1 to start the season, the best start to a year in program history. Also, with an 18-0 win over Florida A&M on February 20, Joyce recorded her 800th career coaching win. The Owls returned to the NCAA Regional for the first time since 2006, making the field as an at-large selection. FAU advanced to the Regional final and forced top overall seed Florida to go into extra innings before falling 1-0 in eight frames. Sophomore Kylee Hanson was named to the C-USA First Team, while Melissa Martinez and Emily Lochten were named to the Second Team. Lochten was also named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team.
In 2016, Joyce and FAU marked a return to championship form. The Owls won their first 12 games of the season, improving upon the previous year's start as the best in school history. FAU swept the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles, earning Coach Joyce Conference Coach of the Year honors for the seventh time in her career. Kylee Hanson and Madisyn Palmer were named Conference Pitcher and Freshman of the Year, respectively. Hanson led the nation in ERA and was named an NFCA Second Team All-American. FAU ended the regular season as just one of two teams in the nation with at least 50 wins and advanced to an NCAA Regional for the second straight season.
The Owls lost Hanson to a season-ending injury early in the 2017 campaign, but still managed to attain a 35-21 record, including Coach Joyce’s 900th career win with a victory over WKU. Emily Lochten earned First-Team C-USA honors, while Delaney Rickey made the Second Team. Lochten would also go on to be named an NFCA All-American, just the third player in school history to achieve the accomplishment.
In 2018, Joyce received her eighth Conference Coach of the Year title after leading her team to a regular-season conference championship. The team went 15-8 in conference (30-26 overall), but fell short in the C-USA Tournament title game against Middle Tennessee, 6-7, ending their 2018 season. Senior Emily Lochten and junior Madisyn Palmer were named to the First Team All-Conference and senior Tatum Buckley was a Second Team selection. Lochten (1st), Palmer (2nd), Mia Olson (2nd) and Buckley (3rd) clinched spots on the NFCA All-Region Team.
The Owls took on its hardest slate during the 2019 season, taking on 11 opponents who were ranked in the top 25 or received votes throughout the year. Seniors Madisyn Palmer and Mia Olson were named to the C-USA Preseason Team and both received nods on the NFCA All-South Region Third Team following the season. Olson (DP/Utility), Samantha Lageyre (IF) and Fayth Davis (OF) were C-USA Second Team selections, while Skylar Whitty (P) was called up on the All-Freshman Team.
Although the 2020 season was cut short, Joyce took in 12 newcomers. Lynn Gardner earned C-USA Co-Pitcher of the Week and Fayth Davis was recognized to the C-USA Preseason Team.
Overall, Joyce has coached a number of All-Conference selections, including 40 on the First Team, 43 on the Second Team and nine on the Third Team. Joyce has had five players named as Conference Player of the Year, three as Conference Pitcher of the Year and three as Conference Freshman of the Year. In her time at FAU, Joyce has had four All-American selections, as well as several players named to the NFCA All-Region Team, including four First Team selections, six Second Team choices and five Third Team notables.
Fittingly, as one the best softball pitchers of all time, Joyce has built the FAU program on the foundation of strong pitching. She helped sculpt the career of Nikki Myers, who finished her four-year run in 2002. Myers twice received Second-Team All-America honors and finished her career third in NCAA history in strikeouts. Joyce coached four A-Sun Players of the Year, with Myers receiving the honor three times and Alana Klaus being recognized in the inaugural 1995 campaign. She has also coached an A-Sun Pitcher of the Year in Candice Freel and twice, the Conference Freshman of the Year. In addition, she added a Sun Belt Pitcher and Player of the Year to her resume in 2007. Joyce earned Conference USA Coach of the Year award in 2016, as the Owls swept the C-USA regular season and conference titles. It was the seventh time and third different conference that she earned conference coach of the year, while leading Kylee Hanson to C-USA Pitcher of the Year and Madisyn Palmer to C-USA Freshman of the Year.
Joyce's duties at FAU have not been limited to softball and administration. From 1996-2014, she was head coach of the women's golf team. Much like the softball team, Joyce led the golf team on a continual path of improvement. She coached three A-Sun Golfers of the Year in Cecilie Lundgreen (1997), Jessica Polus (2002) and Natalia Navarro (2004), and one Freshman of the Year in Praewnapa Phol-Uayporn (2005).
Outside of FAU, Joyce has been involved as a coach and a player at the highest levels of softball. Her coaching experience includes a four-year stint in the women's professional softball ranks, winning the World Series in each of those seasons. She has also coached and played softball with many of the nation's top collegiate coaches.
A member of the National Amateur Softball Hall of Fame, Joyce holds a career pitching record of 753 wins and 42 losses. Included in her totals are 150 no-hit, no-run games and 50 perfect games. At the plate she posted a career batting average of .324. Joyce counts striking out Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters of all time, in 1961 as one of her most notable achievements.
A multi-sport athlete, Joyce has been inducted into 20 halls of fame.