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Tharps Named Swedes Next Head Volleyball Coach

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— BETHANY COLLEGE ATHLETICS RELEASE —

LINDSBORG, KAN. (BethanySwedes.com) – Bethany College and the Department of Athletics have announced Ayona Tharps as the new Head Volleyball Coach. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Ayona Tharps to Bethany College and our Swedes family,” said Dean of Athletics Laura Moreno. “From the moment we started talking, and throughout the entire hiring process, Coach Tharps’ energy was contagious. She prioritizes and values mentoring and developing student-athletes, both on the court and off, through her passion and knowledge of volleyball. Her experience and familiarity with the KCAC and the NAIA are an immediate benefit, as is her enthusiasm, knowledge, and willingness to grow and learn. Coach Tharps is a great fit for Bethany College and the Swedes volleyball program, and we are excited to see what the future holds!”  

Tharps is no stranger to the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), having completed a decorated playing career at Ottawa University, along with one year of coaching.  

Tharps spent 2022-23 as a student coach at Ottawa, where she assisted in all facets of the program. She worked with both the junior varsity and varsity teams, including player development, practice planning, game strategy, on-court coaching, scouting reports, recruiting, team building and communication, travel arrangements, and equipment management. Tharps also assisted with the Ottawa University Volleyball Camps from 2018-2022.  

“I want to thank Laura and Luke for giving me this opportunity,” said Coach Tharps. “Having played in the KCAC, I feel right at home at Bethany. I am really excited and blessed that Coach Abi is staying on to help me grow what Coach Stewart started. The KCAC is full of great teams and the competition has continued to get better and better each year. I am looking forward to helping guide this team and further Bethany College Volleyball.” 

Following her time at Ottawa, Tharps had a brief stint as a collegiate head coach before returning to club coaching. The past year, she was the Assistant Coach for 13 Select for High Performance Volleyball Club in St. Louis, Mo. Tharps previously served as one of the Head Coaches for High Performance Volleyball Club in 2021-22. In addition, she coached club volleyball during her career at Ottawa. Tharps served as an Assistant Coach for 13 Premiere in 2020-21, and Head Coach for 15 Select and 16 Select in 2019-20 and 2022-23, all with Mid America Volleyball (MAVS) in Overland Park, Kan. 

Tharps began her collegiate career at Evangel University for one year before transferring to Ottawa University, where she played for four years. Her playing career at Ottawa was one for the record books, as she was the first volleyball student-athlete in Ottawa history to be a named a three-time NAIA All-American. In addition, Tharps was a two-time KCAC Player of the Year (2019, 2021), four-time First Time All-KCAC (2018-2021), three-time American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) First Team All-West Central Region (2019-2021), and AVCA All-West Central Region Honorable Mention (2018). During her time at Ottawa, the Braves were two-time KCAC Regular Season Champions (2020, 2021) and four-time KCAC Tournament Champions (2018-2021). Tharps served as team captain in 2019, 2020, and 2021 and was a member of the 2021 All-Decade Team. She finished her career as the Ottawa career leader in kills (1,728), third in kills per set (3.4), third in solo blocks (88), third in block assists (289), and third in blocks (377).  

As a player, Ayona will go down as one of the all-time greats not only at Ottawa but in the KCAC,” said Melissa Blessington, Director of Volleyball and Head Women’s Indoor and Beach Volleyball Coach at Ottawa University. “Her leadership on the court made her an easy pick to add to our staff following her storied career. I don’t think I will be able to get used to seeing her in anything but black and gold, but I can tell you Bethany is lucky to have her.” 

Tharps holds a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science with a concentration in Allied Health from Ottawa University. While a student at Ottawa, she also did an Athletic Training internship with the Ottawa University Sports Medicine Department.