GREAT FALLS - University of Providence volleyball head coach Arunas Duda has been around volleyball for a long time; his whole life, in fact. The Southern California native played collegiate ball at Santa Clara University, before becoming an assistant at Santa Monica College.
Duda has been around Great Falls for a long time too. At 16 years with University of Providence (University of Great Falls prior to 2017), Duda is the longest-tenured volleyball coach in the Frontier Conference, and a two-time Frontier Conference Coach of the Year, being named in 2005 and 2006.
He’s just the second volleyball coach in program history at UP, and he’s guided it from a fledgling program to its first NAIA National Tournament appearance last season.
Hoping to build off that success, his Argos are off to another strong start. UP went 10-1 in non-conference play in 2019 before dropping the conference opener at home to Montana Tech on Thursday. The Argos got back to their winning ways on Saturday, defeating Lewis-Clark State in straight sets.
MTN Sports recently sat down with Duda to discuss his career and the growth of Argo volleyball.
(NOTE: This interview was conducted before Providence’s conference-opening match with Montana Tech)
MTN Sports: How’s this season going for you? Do you like where you’re at through non-conference play?
Arunas Duda: Yeah, I think coaches make a plan to see how the preseason is going to go. I thought, “We’re going to test ourselves early.” Going to Butte and playing in a good tournament there, then going to Caldwell and playing College of Idaho’s tournament. So we knew that there would be some tough, challenging matches, and to come out 10-1 in the preseason, we’re definitely pleased with that. That’s probably one of the best case scenarios we could’ve thought of. We’re just fortunate we have the group to do it.
MTN Sports: It seems like you have a good group, especially going back to last year’s successful season. I saw today you’re the highest ranked Frontier team in the polls.
Duda: Yeah, made the move from number 21 in the country to number 16 today, so we’re really pleased about that. But we’ve played great defense so far. Only one team has hit above 160 on us, so that’s a great defensive job, and we take a lot of pride in that. We drill that a lot in practice. Still have a ton of areas to improve, but our libero has been doing a great job for us, Averi Dyer, but we’ve had Sacha (Legros) twice be the defender of the week. So it’s not just coming from one person. We’ve got Kelsey Shaver as well, so we’re playing defense from all aspects, and that’s what’s been helping us a lot.
MTN Sports: To take a step back from this season and look at your time here, it’s been 16 years. Can you believe that?
Duda: No, not at all. When people say that, I’m like, “I still feel like it’s my first five years.” It’s been a long tenure but I still feel like I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me. I’m just really pleased with how the programs gone the last couple of years. I think our athletic director and vice president of athletics Dave Gantt has had a big role in that. He’s really helped us out, and helped all the programs moving in the right direction. But being a volleyball guys, we always ask him for advice. Right before you came in here, he was sitting here talking about serving drills and things like that. It’s just been great. As a coach, I feel really renewed and refreshed in that aspect, and I’ve been learning a lot for the last couple years, which is great.
MTN Sports: I did a quick count, but does that make you the longest-tenured volleyball coach in the conference?
Duda: I believe so, yes.
MTN Sports: Take us through your background in volleyball. How did you get started and how did you end up here?
Duda: I played volleyball my entire life. Being from Southern California, almost everyone down there plays. Played my whole life, went to the Junior Olympics, won a couple of medals there. Decided to play at Santa Clara University on their team for awhile. And then I found the head coach there at the time, John Wallace, and he said, “We need an extra arm in the gym and would love to have somebody come out and help out with practice.” I thought it was a great opportunity, and from that point on I just fell in love with coaching and I’ve been involved with it ever since. Went from Santa Clara down to Santa Monica, and coached men and women for a couple years, and then straight up here.
MTN Sports: The growth of this program - it’s something you’ve seen since it was young to where it’s at now. Can you talk about how it’s changed?
Duda: I still remember when there was 30-something athletes on campus, and that was it my first year here. It was so small. Watching the university grow, seeing the program grow, we’ve gone all the way up from 36 players on our roster and now we’re back down to about 20. It’s just been a lot of growth, a lot of exciting opportunities happening, especially the last couple of years when we switched to the University of Providence. All that excitement, all that energy, everyone around campus has added so much to it, everything is head in the right direction.
MTN Sports: What’s been the most rewarding part for you these past 16 years?
Duda: Talking to my former players. We had one alum pop in the gym the other day. Talking to them and reminiscing about the old days. They’re like, “I can’t believe we have air conditioning in here now. We would’ve loved that when we were playing.” Being invited to weddings, just being a part of their lives for the rest of their lives is so rewarding, and that’s why we coach. It’s been fun.
MTN Sports: Do you see this trend continuing? Making history for the program?
Duda: That’s always the goal. We have a lot of young talent. We have a lot of great upperclassmen leadership. When our seniors graduate, our juniors are going to step into that role, and so we want it to be something where we continue to reload. You add more pieces and look to grow again. We definitely have a lot of growth and development to do in our program, but we want to be competing to go to nationals every year. That’s where we want to be.