As Kera Coleman prepares to begin her sixth season as head volleyball coach at Arkansas Tech University, she is most excited about the camaraderie among the Golden Suns.
“The girls connected instantaneously,” said Coleman, an ATU alumna who needs 11 wins to reach 100 for her career. “We are forming connections on the court and off the court. It just feels different. It feels like everyone has already bought in, which is such a huge part of the preseason process. It’s been fun, and it’s been different in the best way possible.”
Arkansas Tech was 8-22 overall and 6-10 in Great American Conference play during the 2022 season. A late-season rally allowed the Golden Suns to qualify for the GAC Tournament as the No. 8 seed, but Coleman is the first to say the season did not live up to the expectations of a program that has made six NCAA Division II Tournament appearances (2000, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2021).
“The difference this year is the competitiveness is on a team level instead of an individual level,” said Coleman. “I want players who are going to compete amongst other players at their position, but you also have to be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. The returners as a whole are taking on different leadership roles based upon their individual characteristics.”
One of those returners is senior setter Gracie Palmer of Russellville.
“There’s already so much buy-in and excitement for this season…there hasn’t been a second when we’ve dwelled on last year,” said Palmer. “We’re all very excited, refreshed and motivated. We know who we are. We know the coaches believe in us and we know the newcomers want the success we’ve always had. Growing up here, I have pride in this program and know what we can do.”
Senior outside hitter Emma Crenshaw of Canyon, Texas, views last season as a motivating factor.
“I think it made us stronger,” said Crenshaw when asked about the 2022 season. “All of us who experienced last season know that’s not something we want to do again. It fuels us to push harder every day, get better and love each other. I’m excited for this year. I love the group of girls we have.”
Coleman attributes the improved team chemistry this season to the familiarity her freshmen have with the program.
“This incoming class has the most players from Arkansas we’ve had in several years,” said Coleman. “One of the benefits of that is a lot of these new players already know me, Coach Kennedy (Shelstead), Arkansas Tech, Arkansas Tech volleyball and the history that goes with that. The buy-in for them is already there. They’ve been coming to camps for years. They know us and our expectations. They know our players. They know that ATU volleyball has a history of success.”
The Golden Suns will participate in a Green and Gold scrimmage at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville. Admission will be free and open to the public. A meet and greet with ATU volleyball student-athletes and coaches is scheduled for after the scrimmage.
Arkansas Tech will begin its 2023 volleyball season with non-conference classics at the University of Illinois-Springfield Sept. 1-2 and Lubbock Christian University Sept. 8-9.
“One of the things we want to see in the first two tournaments is more offensive production,” said Coleman. “I believe our defense and our serve/receive are going to continue to be really good. It’s really about honing in on those offensive connections and what is going to score us points.”
The Golden Suns will make their home debut with a 6 p.m. match against the University of Arkansas-Monticello on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Admission to all regular season home ATU volleyball matches is free.
Live coverage of Golden Suns volleyball is available on www.arkansastechsports.com.
See you at Tucker Coliseum. And 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.