It is not surprising that the setter position has been a consistent strong point for the Arkansas Tech volleyball program since Kristy Bayer was installed as the Golden Suns’ head coach in 2004. After all, Bayer was an All-America setter with a school-record 5,441 career assists during her playing days at Grand Valley State. She has coached an all-conference Arkansas Tech setter in each of the past six seasons. Kayla Allison earned four such awards from 2005-08, and Kera Dukic continued the tradition by making all-conference teams in 2009 and 2010. Those two players combined to make 7,868 assists for the Golden Suns during their careers.
So as the 2011 volleyball season begins, you might expect Bayer to be nervous about giving sophomore setter and new starter Amber Cerrillos the keys to the Arkansas Tech offense. Nothing could be further from the truth. “With the exit of Kera due to graduation, Amber Cerrillos has really stepped up,” said Bayer. “She is different from the other setters we’ve had in the past in that she is so physically strong. That really carries her a lot of times. She’s done a great job as a leader, too. She’s become a passionate, energetic on the court leader. She’s done a great job stepping into that role.” Many of Cerrillos’ assists this year will be drilled over the net for kills by senior Laura Farney.
The Morton, Ill., product earned all-region and all-conference honors in 2010 after recording 349 kills, 345 digs and 50 blocks for a Golden Suns team that was 31-5 overall and champion of the Gulf South Conference West Division.
“First of all, Laura is just a great person,” said Bayer. “She has been very enjoyable to coach for these four seasons. She is so good in the front row and the back row. You don’t see that very often from a player who is 6-foot or 6-foot-1, but Laura had great coaching from an early age. She is very technically skilled, she has great ball control and she can jump. You don’t find that combination very often.” Senior libero Brennae Benda, who joined Farney on the All-GSC West team in 2010, could make history very early in the 2011 season. Benda enters the season with 1,397 career digs. She needs just 13 more to surpass Racheal Urquhart (1,409 digs from 2005-08) and break the Arkansas Tech record for career digs. Bayer believes that the combination of Benda and fellow senior Marcela Mascarenhas (297 digs in 2010) on the back row is one of her team’s greatest strengths. “Having them back there is a huge advantage for us,” said Bayer. “On a lot of teams the libero is really strong and everybody else is just pretty good, but we have two extremely strong back row players. Brennae has really put time into the weight room and getting into great physical condition. She is very detail oriented and a self-teacher. Every time she makes a mistake I can see her work to correct it.” Other top returnees for the Golden Suns include seniors Thabata Galvao and Kelly O’Malley; juniors Carly Florian and Brittany Ryan; and sophomores Sara Motsinger, Stephanie Channell, Lindsey Layes and Casey Loper. Motsinger will be called on to help fill the hole at middle blocker created by the graduation of All-American Sarah Von Lienen. “Sara has emerged as a great all-around middle blocker,” said Bayer. “She has worked to develop her shots. Sarah Von Lienen is going to be a hard act to follow, but Sara Motsinger is a different type of player. She’s had the advantage of working under Sarah last year, so she has someone great to emulate.” Tech added four freshmen to its volleyball roster for 2011 --- Sierra Nighswonger, Kaitlyn White, Katie Maguire and Taylor Brown. The Golden Suns are preseason favorites to win the first regular season volleyball championship in the new NCAA Division II Great American Conference. The league was created by Arkansas Tech and eight other member institutions as a way to limit missed class time and travel expenses. The University of Arkansas at Monticello, East Central University, Harding University, Henderson State University, Ouachita Baptist University, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Southern Arkansas University and Southwestern Oklahoma State University are the other charter members of the GAC. “For the volleyball program, it’s not going to be a whole lot different in that we’ll continue to play the Arkansas schools just like we always did,” said Bayer. “We add the three Oklahoma schools, which we played every year already anyway, so it’s not going to be new competition for us. It’s just going to be structured differently. We’re looking forward to the new conference. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to earn that automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament (from the GAC) each year down the road.”
Arkansas Tech will begin its 2011 season with a road trip to the Rockhurst Volleyball Classic in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday, Sept. 2, and Saturday, Sept. 3.
The Golden Suns' first home appearance of the season will be a GAC match against Henderson State University on Thursday, Sept. 15. First serve at Tucker Coliseum is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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