Having your head in the clouds is usually considered a bad thing. For Texas Tech volleyball outside hitter and wind energy major, Caitlin Dugan, it is the exact opposite.
"I think clouds are the coolest thing ever, it's so nerdy, but I love them," Dugan exclaimed excitedly.
The rising junior is studying to be a meteorologist, something she has known she wanted to be since she was in the third grade.
"It started as a school project we had to do," Dugan recalled. "We had to make a bunch of cute little pictures about what the weather would be for the week, and I thought, ‘wow, I really like this.'"
Every morning before she left for school, Dugan would watch the weather with her mom. She became fascinated by it all.
"That is something that is prominent from my childhood. I eventually want to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which is like the NASA of weather."
The wind energy program is one of the main reasons the Arizona native chose to come to Texas Tech. That and volleyball, of course. In her freshman season, Dugan tallied 269 kills and 302.5 points, the second most on the squad. She saw action in all 30 matches, making 15 starts as a rookie. Even if she might not have expected to get much playing time during her first season in Lubbock, she didn't let it stop her from trying to earn a spot in the lineup.
"Our team is great," Dugan said. "They are really uplifting, even if you are trying to take their spot. I remember a senior on the team took me under her wing and told me ‘I just want you to know I support you, 100 percent, and if that means you beat me out in practice that is fine because you earned it.'"
Dugan, like many other students and student-athletes at the university, was unsure what the 2020-21 academic year would look like after the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. She had to quickly adjust to online learning and working out alone at her home in Arizona in preparation for the volleyball season. It was the support from Tech that helped her work through the adversity.
"I would do my online classes, which I didn't really mind, I don't have a hard time learning online and then I would work out at home," Dugan said. "Katie Munger, our strength and conditioning coach, reached out to the whole team and found a way to put together boxes for everyone on the team. She sent us ladders, medicine balls, resistance bands, all of that so we could train at home. It was really helpful."
The training paid off. Dugan just finished a successful sophomore season in which she led the team in blocks (52) and was second in kills (197), kills per set (3.14), points (229.5) and total attacks (513). She was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team and the Academic All-Big 12 First Team, posting a perfect 4.00 GPA in the classroom.
"Your freshman year you are going into it blindly. You know how to play volleyball but learning the systems, learning the team, meeting everybody, figuring out how you fit in takes the entire year. Sophomore year I felt prepared, I knew everyone, I knew what to do so I could focus on more intricate details of my game. I could work on different shots I could use when I am hitting or improving my defense. I felt like I had a good year and talking to the coaches they prepared me that I could be on the All-Big 12 Team, but you never know because it is a tough conference."
Again, she attributes much of her athletic and academic success to the resources provided by the university and athletic department. Those resources would not be available without the generous support of all Red Raider Club members.
"It is pretty much impossible to fail here," said Dugan. "They will not let you fail, not that I ever want to be in that position. The amount of support staff at the Talkington Leadership Academy and even in the volleyball program, there are so many people that are there to help you. They are there for volleyball, but they are also there to develop you as a human being and if you are struggling that is the first thing on their mind. It's crazy the amount of people here who will lift you up no matter what."
Heading into her junior season, Dugan is as focused as ever. She believes the team is poised to climb the rankings in the Big 12 this year. Her play and leadership on the court will be a major part of the team's success.
"Our team this season is extremely talented. There is really no reason why we won't be climbing that Big 12 Conference ladder this year. I think ending at seventh last year was a little disappointing. COVID was tough for us, there was a lot of adversity we had to go through. There were only like three matches where we had the entire team, maybe not even that. I think I would expect us to be ranked much higher than that this season."
One thing is for sure, no matter what this season might throw at Dugan, she is ready to weather the storm.