Season Preview: Suns Seek GSC West Crown

For most college volleyball programs, 24 wins and a berth in the postseason would be a banner year. For head coach Kristy Bayer and the Arkansas Tech Golden Suns, it was a rebuilding year. The 2009 Golden Suns overcame the loss of three graduated all-conference performers — Racheal Urquhart, Dana Florian and Kayla Allison — to post a 24-13 overall record.

The Suns were 8-4 in league play, good for third place in the Gulf South Conference West Division and a third consecutive berth in the GSC Tournament. Every starter from that 24-win team is back, and Bayer believes that the 2010 Golden Suns are poised to be a factor in the GSC West Division race. “The 2009 season was a time for our players to work on their leadership and find a new identity for our team,” said Bayer, who is three wins shy of becoming Tech’s all-time leader in volleyball coaching victories. “We are ready to go for this 2010 season. We had a strong off-season, and we came in this fall in great shape. My assistant coach, Brett Sikora, has done a fabulous job with our off-season program and getting our players excited about their conditioning.” Among the returnees is two-time All-NCAA Division II South Region selection Sarah Von Lienen (photographed).

A senior middle blocker, Von Lienen ranked second in the GSC in hitting percentage (.324) and fifth in the conference in blocks (0.90 per game) last season. Von Lienen has recorded 300 or more kills and 100 or more blocks in each of her first three seasons at Arkansas Tech. If she matches that output in 2010, she will complete her eligibility ranked among the top five in school history in both of those categories. Perhaps the greatest testament to Von Lienen’s talent is that she was named to the GSC All-Decade team with a year of eligibility still remaining. “Sarah has a lot of physical ability,” said Bayer. “She understands the game so well. I coached Sarah when she was a 13-year old living in Memphis, and she was not a good volleyball player back then. She was all arms and legs and couldn’t serve the ball over the net, so just to see how she has blossomed into one of the top players that Arkansas Tech will ever have has been fun. I’m looking for her to have a great season.” Von Lienen is one of four 2009 All-GSC West Division selections that return for the Golden Suns in 2010. Also back are senior setter Kera Dukic, who had 1,140 assists in 2009; junior outside hitter Laura Farney, an all-region selection last season after notching 400 kills and 334 digs; and junior outside hitter Brennae Benda, who is on pace to shatter the school record for career digs after recording 897 of them during her first two years. Other returning letter winners include senior right side hitter Ashlynn Hamrick, junior outside hitters Marcela Mascarenhas and Kelly O’Malley, sophomore outside hitter Carly Florian and sophomore middle blocker Brittany Ryan.

Defensive specialist Lindsay Layes and outside hitter Thabata Galvao join the active roster this season after redshirting in 2009. Joining the program are four true freshmen — setter Amber Cerrillos, middle blocker/outside hitter Casey Loper, outside hitter Stephanie Channell and middle blocker Sara Motsinger. “It’s been a fairly easy transition,” said Bayer of working the newcomers into the Golden Suns’ system. “We threw them into team stuff, and we really haven’t missed a beat. They were able to adjust immediately. We’re looking for all four of them to compete for spots and see playing time this year.” The Golden Suns will begin their 2010 volleyball season by competing in the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites Classic, which will be hosted by Texas Woman’s University on Friday, Sept. 3, and Saturday, Sept. 4, in Denton, Texas. Tech will play its first home matches of the season on Monday, Sept. 13, against Champion Baptist (3 p.m.) and Lyon College (7 p.m.).