Bays, a former two-sport athlete at Milligan, was a standout player on the volleyball team and still holds the single-season school records for kills (615) and kills per game (4.8) — which she set during her senior year. Furthermore, she had a 1,000-point scoring career for the Lady Buffaloes in basketball and is a member of the Milligan College Athletics Hall of Fame’s 2009 induction class.
Former Milligan volleyball head coach Linda King had a distinct influence on Bays’ decision to come to Milligan in the first place and the fact that she could be a two-sport athlete, according to Bays. After leading the Buffs to the volleyball Sweet 16 in 1996, Bays started her coaching career at nearby East Tennessee State University as a graduate assistant before moving on to Georgetown College (Ky.).
After a few other coaching stops along the way, Bays ended up right where she always knew she belonged — at Milligan.
“I always knew that when it became time for me to be a head coach,” said Bays, “I’d be at a small Christian school because that was just kind of true and dear to my heart. And Milligan, of course, is home. My family is just 30 minutes from here, so ultimately that was always in the back of my head that I’d love to coach at Milligan.”
Bays took over the reins in 2008 and is currently 218-169 after an historic 2018 campaign (26-9 record). Milligan reeled off 14 straight wins, the most since a nine-game streak in 2016, during conference play and its 26 wins were the second most Milligan has accrued in a season since 2011. The Buffs also capped off the year receiving votes in the NAIA coaches postseason top 25 poll.
Milligan finished the 2018 regular season as the Appalachian Athletic Conference North Division champion and finished runner-up at the conference tournament. The Buffs’ road to nationals was no easy path as they had to outlast Point University in a five-set, back-and-forth affair in the AAC semifinals, which saw Milligan rally from a 2-1 deficit.
The Buffs had been close to the national tournament during her tenure, but this year was finally the year that the program finally got over the hump.
“I felt like when it finally happened,” Bays said, “and it was like ‘We did this. We made it over the mountain.’ I think I did have some tears of joy. My daughter, who has been here with me all my years as a coach, she just hugged me and was like, ‘Yeah!’”
Ever since taking over the program, Bays had the goal to get Milligan back to the national tournament. Since that has been accomplished, it’s time to set a new one.
“Our goal has always been to get to the national tournament,” Bays said, “and as I told my team, we’ve accomplished that goal. Now, it’s we want to win at the national tournament.”
The Buffs look primed to be a contender in the AAC and at the national level once again as they lose only one senior in Alyssa Rupert, who was the AAC Libero of the Year and an NAIA All-America honorable mention.
While Rupert will be difficult to replace, Milligan returns All-AAC first-team performers Kellee Geren and Julie Dockery, along with All-AAC second-team member Elise Gregory. The future is bright for the Buffs and Coach Bays really likes where her program is headed.
“I think they realized that we are not as far away from No. 1 or the top 25 as it seemed like we were a year ago,” Bays said.