Golden Suns Reflect on Adventure in Italy

If achievement begins with the expansion of one’s horizons, the 2017 Arkansas Tech University volleyball team already has a head start on continuing the program’s championship tradition.

Head coach Kristy Bayer and the Golden Suns took a 10-day tour of Italy during the month of June. Such adventures provide NCAA intercollegiate athletics teams with the dual benefit of additional preparation for their upcoming season and the opportunity to explore new cultures.

“A big movement in college athletics right now is providing student-athletes the opportunity to study abroad,” said Bayer. “During my tenure here I have raised some money through camps, and I thought this would be a really good thing to invest in. As I was researching different places to travel, one of the more popular places for student-athletes was Italy.”

Bayer, Tech’s all-time leader in volleyball coaching victories with 329, said the additional practices and matches should give her team an advantage heading into the 2017 season.

“It gave us an extra opportunity for our team to gel, and for us to get our team chemistry going before we hit the fall season,” said Bayer.

The Golden Suns went 3-0 in their Italian exhibition matches, but their undefeated record did not come easily.

“I feel like (the Italian teams) were very well-trained in all areas of the game,” said Bayer, who has led Tech to five regular season conference titles, three Great American Conference Tournament championships and three appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament. “Whereas an American player may be specialized and really good in one part of volleyball, these players (in Italy) were very good all-around players. We may have had a little more size than they did, but I felt like they knew the game a little better than we did.”

Sophomore Ellie Perkins also observed several differences in the Italian style of play.

“It was an interesting experience as the customs were different down to the little things such as warm-up style,” wrote Perkins in a blog posted at after the first match in Italy. “We started off a bit slow, but got in our groove and wound up winning our match in five sets. It was fun to play against a team with such a different style, and they were very talented.”

Among the sites the group visited during time away from the court were the Square of Miracles, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Roman Colosseum, Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Reading the team’s blog leaves one with the impression that a fair amount of authentic Italian pizza was consumed along the way.

“I thought our student-athletes did a really good job of learning the culture, trying new foods, learning the language and learning about the history of the different places we went to,” said Bayer. “We did a lot of pre-trip planning in terms of the educational side of things. We learned about the places we were going to, and I felt like it meant a lot more since we had that additional background.”

Redshirt freshman Tabitha Spray marveled at the sight of the Alps mountain range in one of the blog posts.

“We have mountains in Arkansas, but nothing like this,” wrote Spray. “They surround us from every angle with unimaginable height. Every inch is covered with dense vegetation.”

It was exactly that kind of experience that inspired Bayer to book the trip in the first place.

“You’re not just going to come (to Tech) to play volleyball,” said Bayer. “It’s also going to be a learning experience and an educational experience. These girls probably never thought they’d have the opportunity to go to a foreign country, and now many of them have that urge to travel abroad. We already have some of them signed up to take international trips next year. It got these girls excited about something outside of their comfort zone.”

Smith Earns Place on CoSIDA National Board

Paul Smith, director of athletic communications at Arkansas Tech University, has been elected to serve as a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Board of Directors.

Smith has led athletic communication efforts at ATU since 2012. He previously worked in the field at the University of Arkansas-Monticello, Delta State University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Oakland University.

His involvement with CoSIDA has included multiple presentations at the organization’s annual national conference and service on the program committee.

A native of Flint, Mich., Smith holds a bachelor’s degree from UAM and a master’s degree from ATU.

ATU Athletics Helps Feed Area Children

Arkansas Tech University Athletics has presented a $1,520 donation to River Valley Food 4 Kids to assist the organization in its efforts to provide nourishment to local children.

Money was raised through events hosted by the volleyball, women’s golf and women’s cross country programs at ATU.

The check presentation was made by Steve Mullins (left), ATU director of athletics, and Kristy Bayer (right), ATU associate director of athletics and head volleyball coach.

Kristin Foster (middle), president of the River Valley Food 4 Kids Board of Directors, received the donation on behalf of the organization.

Tech Well Represented in July 4 Events

A former Arkansas Tech University cross country team member and a current member of the ATU men’s golf team made headlines in two of Arkansas’ most recognized July 4 sporting events on Tuesday.

Cheryl Nolan, an all-conference cross country selection at Arkansas Tech in 2010 and 2011, won the women’s division in the 2017 Firecracker Fast 5K in Little Rock. She completed the course in 16 minutes, 58.69 seconds.

Nolan is one of eight women in the history of Golden Suns cross country to earn multiple all-conference awards.

Ryan Spurlock, who will be a sophomore on the ATU men’s golf team in 2017-18, finished second in the 2017 Fourth of July Classic at War Memorial Golf Course in Little Rock. Spurlock completed the 54-hole event with a 6-under par total of 186, one stroke behind champion Chris Jenkins of Little Rock.

A graduate of Maumelle High School and resident of Little Rock, Spurlock was named Great American Conference freshman of the year and helped the Wonder Boys reach the match play semifinals of the NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championships during the 2016-17 season.

ATU Alumna Bounds Selected to Team USA

Arkansas Tech University alumna Kaitlin Bounds is representing her country as a member of Team USA at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships track and field competition in London, England, July 14-23.

Bounds, who was diagnosed with autism at age 4, is among 50 athletes representing the United States of America in the event.

It is the first major international track and field competition since the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.

Bounds finished eighth in the 1,500-meter run for her classification on Monday, July 17, with a time of four minutes, 55.49 seconds. She is scheduled to compete in the 800-meter run on Sunday, July 23, at 1:55 p.m. Central Daylight Time.

The selection to Team USA came on the heels of two gold medals won by Bounds at the 2017 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships in Los Angeles, Calif., in early June. She was victorious in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter runs at Drake Stadium on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles.

A resident of Russellville, Bounds, 25, earned four letters as a member of the Arkansas Tech cross country program. She was named All-Gulf South Conference in 2010 and was a multiple academic all-conference honoree, earning recognition for her classroom performance in both the GSC and the Great American Conference.

Bounds graduated from ATU in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history.

Based in Colorado Springs, Colo., U.S. Paralympics, a division of the nonprofit United States Olympic Committee, states on its website that it is “dedicated to becoming the world leader in the paralympic movement and promoting excellence in the lives of people with paralympic-eligible impairments, including physical disabilities and visual impairments.”