Coming close and missing can be a great motivator for future success.
Arkansas Tech University finished the 2021 volleyball regular season 19-7 overall and 13-3 in Great American Conference play…one match behind regular season GAC champion Oklahoma Baptist University and its 14-2 league record.
On Thursday, Nov. 18, the Golden Suns will face Henderson State University in a first-round match at the GAC Tournament. First serve at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs is scheduled for noon.
The two sides split their two regular season meetings, the most recent of which was a five-set Reddies' victory over ATU in Arkadelphia on Nov. 2.
"We started super slow there," said Kera Dukic, ATU volleyball head coach. "I don't think we followed our game plan very well in that match. It will be nice to be at a neutral site this time. We definitely plan to take advantage of our right-side attack and our middle attack. We have to spread it out and attack them in a different way. We also need to serve better. It's a little bit of revenge because that loss was a killer for us."
Arkansas Tech enters the GAC Tournament as the league leader in service aces (188) and third in the GAC in blocks (2.14 per set).
"Our serving has improved a lot and so has our confidence back there," said Dukic. "I also think our physicality at the net has gotten a lot better. Chemistry is something that always improves as the year goes along, but for us we had a lot of moving parts. It's been neat to see this group grow together collectively each and every match."
ATU senior Tymber Riley of Bentonville ranks top five in the GAC in points (3.65 per set) and kills (3.25 per set).
"It is definitely a heavy ball," said Dukic when asked about the distinctive sound the volleyball makes when Riley hits it. "It's got a lot of power behind it. She is so easy to love. She's just adorable. In the same way, though, she's also super feisty and so competitive. She is so hard on herself and it's truly what makes her who she is. She pushes herself every single day, and that's probably the only way she can do what she does as a two-sport athlete (volleyball and softball). She's one of a kind."
The GAC Tournament will continue through Saturday, Nov. 20, with the champion earning the league's automatic (and likely only) bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Golden Suns volleyball program has reached the NCAA Tournament on five occasions (2000, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017).
"This is the most tournament ready team we've had since I've been here," said Dukic, who became head coach at her alma mater in 2018. "I'm transparent with our team when it comes to line-ups, what we're going to do and how we're going to game plan for the other team. It was really cool to see all 21 of them locked in and nodding their heads as we prepared for this match. This is survival. We're going to do whatever it takes."
Live coverage of the GAC Tournament will be available at www.arkansastechsports.com.
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.