ETSU names Dr. Bruce Atkinson volleyball head coach
Published 3:02 pm Thursday, May 18, 2023
JOHNSON CITY – East Tennessee State University Athletic Director Dr. Richard Sander announced on Thursday the hiring of Dr. Bruce Atkinson as ETSU’s volleyball head coach.
Atkinson comes to ETSU with 20 years of head coaching experience at both the NCAA Division I and Division II levels. Most recently, Atkinson spent the last four seasons leading Delaware State’s program where he directed the Hornets to a regular season and tournament titles in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the program’s first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“We are excited to announce the hiring of Dr. Atkinson as our new leader of the ETSU volleyball program,” said Dr. Sander. “Dr. Atkinson has had success at every stop he has been, and he has had tremendous reviews from everyone we have spoken with. He is a player’s coach and does an outstanding job developing his student-athletes. His teams have been champions both on and off the court, and we look forward to having him continue our success at ETSU.”
Along with coaching at Delaware State, Atkinson has held head coaching stops at Winthrop, Towson, Hawaii Hilo, University of Texas Brownsville and Dana College. During his career, Atkinson has won over 300 career games, while being accumulating six conference Coach of the Year honors.
“It is an honor to be selected as the next head coach at East Tennessee State University,” said Atkinson. “I want to thank Dr. Noland, Dr. Sander and Ms. Aksionoff for their belief in me to continue the success of ETSU Volleyball. I am excited to start working with the team as we strive to earn degrees and bring home another SoCon championship.”
Atkinson made history on many levels during his four years at Delaware State. To go with the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, the Hornets won a program record 26 games in 2021 en route to winning the MEAC regular season title for the first time since 1987. Following the 2021 campaign, Atkinson was named MEAC Coach of the Year as Delaware State played in its first ever National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC). In addition to the 26 victories, the Hornets set school records in conference wins (12), longest win streak (16) and shutout victories (20). During the 16-match win streak, Delaware State won 14 in straight sets, while the Hornets finished the 2021 season leading the conference in kills, hitting percentage, opponents hitting percentage and assists. Ten members of the Hornets’ roster went on to earn MEAC All-Academic recognition in 2021, including setter Malgorzata Andersohn leading the country in aces per set (0.65).
This past 2022 season, Atkinson directed Delaware State to a 24-win campaign, resulting in a .774-win percentage and the MEAC Tournament title – earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hornets traveled to Lincoln where they took on perennial power Nebraska in the opening round. Seventeen of Delaware State’s wins were sweeps, while the Hornets won 10 straight matches from Aug. 27-Sept. 10 – eight being straight set wins.
Atkinson took over a Delaware State program that won two matches the year prior and he quickly turned them around by recording 73 victories over his four-year run with the Hornets. Delaware State won 12 matches in his first season, 11 during the 2020 COVID year, the program-record 26 wins in 2021 and 24 victories in 2022.
In his first season at the helm, Atkinson took over a roster that featured 11 freshmen and just one senior and increased the Hornets’ win total by 10 matches with the 12 victories, which, at the time, marked the most wins by a Delaware State team since 2010. The Hornets also won seven conference matches in that 2019 season, which were also the most since that 2010 campaign where they won eight. To go with the turnaround on the court, Delaware State also achieved success in the classroom in Atkinson’s first year as the Hornets received the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) with the United States Marine/AVCA Team Academic Award after the team generated a 3.71 grade point average.
Prior to his run at Delaware State, Atkinson spent six seasons leading the Winthrop volleyball program from 2013-18. During his time spent in Rock Hill, Atkinson won a total of 98 matches, which are third-most in program history. Atkinson led the Eagles to four winning seasons, including a 20-win campaign in 2014, while Winthrop reached the conference tournament semifinals in three of his final four seasons.
Atkinson got his first NCAA Division I head coaching job at Towson from 2010-12 where he won 70 percent of his matches and was a two-time Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Coach of the Year. During his last two seasons at Towson, Atkinson led the Tigers to a 48-13 overall record and a 22-4 mark in conference play, including a perfect 12-0 season in 2012. Atkinson was voted CAA Coach of the Year in 2011 and 2012, while he took over a program that went 8-21 the previous and doubled the Tigers’ win total in year one with a 16-15 record, featuring a 10-0 start – the best start in Towson program history during the 2010 season.
Success has followed Atkinson in every stop as he spent three years at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and he directed the Vulcans to a 64-13 overall record (.812) and a 39-5 mark (.872) in conference play. Atkinson was a two-time PacWest Coach of the Year, winning the honor in 2007 and 2009, while Hawaii Hilo won two conference titles and advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament in 2009. The 2009 squad finished the season with a 25-2 record and was ranked in the top 20 for the majority of the campaign. The NCAA Tournament berth was the program’s first in over a decade.
Atkinson began his coaching career in 1999 where he was an assistant women’s volleyball coach and physical education instructor at Merced College. Following a five-year stint there, Atkinson got his first head coaching position in 2004 at Dana College and spent one year at the University of Texas Brownsville (now UTRGV).
Atkinson earned a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education (Scientific Emphasis) from Brigham Young University-Hawaii in 1993, and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Southern California University of Health Sciences in 1996.
He is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician (C.C.S.P.) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S), in addition to being CPR/AED Certified for Adult and Pediatric. Atkinson is a member of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, National Strength and Conditioning Association and American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians.
Atkinson has served on the AVCA Regional Awards Committee, while he was the Big South Conference Volleyball Chair for the NCAA from 2016-18. Atkinson was also a member of the Western Region Volleyball Advisory Committee for the NCAA from 2008-10 and served as a National Poll Voter for the AVCA.
A native of Merced, Cal., Atkinson is married to Junae Kekauoha.