Fort Lewis College has found a new head volleyball coach a little more than a month after it announced it had parted with Tricia Melfy after two seasons.
Giedre Tarnauskaite, who originally is from Lithuania, was named the ninth head coach in FLC program history Thursday. She will begin her duties Feb. 24.
Tarnauskaite will join the Skyhawks from Seattle University, where last season she was an assistant coach and co-recruiting coordinator. Before her year at Seattle, she spent three seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Montana.
“For me, I have been an assistant and been given a piece of a pie, and I feel like I have been successful with what I have been given,” Tarnauskaite said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “Now, I see a chance to challenge myself and see what I can do with a whole pie.”
Last season, Seattle University went 13-18 overall and 4-12 in the Western Athletic Conference with a first round conference tournament loss to Kansas City.
Head coach James Finley retired from Seattle University at the end of the 2019 season, and Tarnauskaite sought out her first head coaching job and found it in Durango.
Tarnauskaite is the sixth new head coach FLC athletic director Brandon Leimbach has appointed in his first year with Skyhawks athletics.
“Giedre really impressed me with her knowledge of the game on both sides of the net and her knack for connecting with student-athletes as a recruiting coordinator at her past two collegiate coaching positions,” Leimbach said in a news release. “For the past 14 years, she has been pouring her passion for volleyball into coaching, and I’m confident that her integrity and ability to create trust and mentor our student-athletes will allow her to create a positive and competitive environment for Skyhawks volleyball for many years to come.”
In two seasons with FLC, Melfy led the team to a 19-31 overall record and 15-21 mark in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. FLC made the conference tournament in 2018 as the eighth seed. It was the first RMAC tournament for FLC since 2013.
FLC’s last season with a winning record came in 2010. The Skyhawks have won four RMAC championships in program history and none since 2007 under Shelly Aaland.
Tarnauskaite has experience helping struggling teams. Her 2018 Montana team qualified for the Big Sky Conference tournament for the first time since 2014, and she saw the Grizzlies go from a 5-21 record and 2-14 mark in conference in 2016 to 10-21 and 7-11 in conference in 2018.
“This is an opportunity to see what I am about and what things I can bring to the team,” Tarnauskaite said. “I want to build a culture, make the program successful and want the community to be ready for a volleyball team we can make one of the top programs in the conference.”
Tarnauskaite great up playing the game in her native country. Her Lithuania junior club team won two national championships, and she spent two seasons on the junior national team.
She moved to the U.S. in 2001 to play college volleyball. The outside hitter spent two seasons at Jefferson College in Missouri before she transferred to Division I Arkansas State. She was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year as a senior in 2014 a year after she was second team all-conference.
“I am a big competitor,” Tarnauskaite said. “I come from a very winning environment from my home in Lithuania. Comping to the U.S., I wanted to compete at the highest level I could. I enjoy winning, but I want to do it right.”
FLC lost only two seniors from last year’s team. Tarnauskaite said she watched the team practice during her visit to Durango and was impressed with the work ethic from the players. But, a big reason she will start so quickly is because she needs to get started recruiting immediately.
“The team is young, so there is a lot of potential,” she said. “There is a good foundation, but I’m also excited to recruit some players. I believe there are seven players returning at the moment, so I know I am going to have to hit the recruiting trail hard. My No. 1 priority right now is to complete the team and make sure I get to know my recruits to make sure they are a good fir for the program in the long run and not just a short-term fix.”
As far as what style of play Tarnauskaite wants to see from the Skyhawks, she said she wants the team to attack opponents.
“A big focus is on offense. It’s one of the areas that stood out to me that could be heavily improved,” she said. “I am a big believer that defense is great but you have to put pressure on the other team. I want to be the kind of team where we’re really good at what we do and our system so other teams have to adjust to our style of play instead of us losing identity of who we are and adjusting to everyone else.
“I want this team to play for each other. Win or lose, I want them to walk away from the court proud of giving everything we could. I hope it translates to wins.”