Succeeding a legend is one of the greatest challenges a coach can face.
Arkansas Tech University alumna Kera Dukic accepted that challenge when she became ATU’s 10th head volleyball coach in January 2018.
Her predecessor, Kristy Bayer, won a program-record 364 matches during 14 seasons as the Golden Suns’ head coach.
Bayer’s teams won Gulf South Conference West Division titles in 2008 and 2010, Great American Conference regular season championships in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2017 and GAC Tournament titles in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017.
She led the Suns to four NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, earned five conference coach of the year honors and was named the 2017 NCAA Division II Central Region coach of the year after guiding the Golden Suns to a 35-1 mark in her final season.
“Filling those shoes, not only with the program success, but just Kristy Bayer in general…it was hard and I felt a lot of pressure,” said Dukic. “She is a huge mentor to me, she was my coach when I played here, she is one of the most impactful women in my life and now is a great friend of mine. A lot of people think you come into a winning program and you just sit there and let the players win, and that’s not the case. I’ve stayed true to myself and leaned on the people I trust and know who I am. I love my players, show them I care about them and hope that everything falls into place.”
Early in Dukic’s third season, that is exactly what is happening.
The Golden Suns are off to a 3-0 start and are ranked No. 14 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association NCAA Division II top 25 poll.
“We work on our mind, body and play,” said Dukic. “We’re only playing one match per week, so our routine is completely off. We’ve been working on getting kills in transition and being super intentional with our footwork and our movements.”
The Golden Suns’ offensive attack is directed by setter Brianna Merkel, who ranks third in the Great American Conference in assists per set (9.91). The Franklin, Wis., product was elected a team captain this season as a sophomore.
“She has earned a leadership role,” said Dukic. “She is one of the strongest setters I’ve ever seen. Bri can get the ball wherever she wants from wherever she wants, and she’s a pretty good blocking presence for us too. I’m training her on the vision side of things and the creative, artistic side of setting. She is getting better every day.”
And so are Dukic and the Golden Suns.
Talk to you on the radio.
Tech Tidbits is a column written by Sam Strasner, ATU director of university relations and radio play-by-play voice for ATU football and basketball.