As a child, IU volleyball coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan grew up attending IU basketball games. She wanted to be a basketball player.
The grass in her backyard looked like concrete because she and her father used the yard as a basketball court while shooting at a hoop fastened to a tree.
Dunbar-Kruzan grew up in Ellettsville, Ind., just 10 minutes from IU’s campus and attended Edgewood High School.
“She was an outdoor person,” her mom, Carol, said. “Don’t ask her to cook, don’t ask her to clean, but put her outside and she’d do any kind of work with her dad.”
In between her sophomore and senior years of high school, she grew from 5-foot-7 to 6-foot, Carol said. After the Ball State coach watched Dunbar-Kruzan play basketball, he offered her a full-ride scholarship to play volleyball.
Dunbar-Kruzan is in her eighth season as the IU volleyball coach. But even though she grew up 10 minutes from campus, her career path to Bloomington has been anything but localized.
She’s made stops in San Francisco, Knoxville, Tenn., and Charleston, S.C., in her coaching ?career.
In Charleston, she had built a good program. She was winning. She had just built a house. But only one thing would make her leave that job.
After graduating from Ball State in 1992, Dunbar-Kruzan went to Los Angeles with her fiancé.
She got her degree in education and thought she would return to Edgewood High School to teach. But she was already having second thoughts about her career path.
That’s when she got the call from her high school coach Karin Wallenstein, who was taking over the volleyball head coaching job at the University of San Francisco.
Dunbar-Kruzan had a decision to make: Stay in Los Angeles with her fiancé or try her hand at coaching.
“I said, ‘Yes!’” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “I didn’t even ask him.”
She made only $10,000 a year, but she was coaching volleyball. She was happy.
She earned her master’s degree in sports and fitness management while working five jobs. After that, she went to the University of Tennessee, where she was an assistant coach for six seasons.
Everybody in her family loved the Knoxville area. Her parents decided to retire there. But three months after her parents moved down to Knoxville, Dunbar-Kruzan left for another opportunity.
She said toward the end of her time at Tennessee, head coach Rob Patrick and she started butting heads on how to run the program.
She was ready. It was her turn to lead a program.
And at the College of Charleston, Dunbar-Kruzan built a powerhouse.
In her four years there, her team went a combined 113-22. In 2005 it went 32-2, the best season in program ?history.
Volleyball was a big deal at the College of Charleston. The president of the university would come to the games and meet with the recruits. They were making the NCAA Tournament often.
One of her players’ fathers was a contractor, and he built Dunbar-Kruzan a house. She was set for life. She was going to live in Charleston, 15 minutes from Kiawah Beach, with her new house and her program that was winning.
“I would have stayed there the rest of my career,” she said.
Then IU called.
Dunbar-Kruzan had the makings of a coach early on.
Her high school basketball coach at Edgewood, Bill Atkinson, still keeps in touch with her. He remembers how when she was on the team, a horrible tragedy happened. A player on the team had ?committed suicide.
The team gathered at Atkinson’s house often after that, just talking through things. He remembers how Dunbar-Kruzan emerged as a leader from the situation and helped her teammates get through the difficult time.
Atkinson had four young daughters at the time.
“She was a positive role model,” he said. “Definitely for my four daughters as they were growing up ... I’m very, very proud of her.”
When she was in high school, Dunbar-Kruzan also met her future husband and current mayor of Bloomington, Mark Kruzan.
They married in May — on her father’s birthday. But the two have known each other for 32 years, Kruzan said.
Kruzan needed a job in the summers, and he worked for Dunbar-Kruzan’s mom, Carol, who worked in the financial aid office at IU. Then when Kruzan ran for state representative, he asked Carol to be his treasurer.
Dunbar-Kruzan remembers one particular encounter with Mark, back when she was in high school.
She was out to dinner with a boy at a restaurant. Kruzan saw her, a big-time basketball player for Edgewood and known around town.
Jokingly, Kruzan went up to her and asked her for her autograph. She acted like he was some random fan and obliged.
Kruzan still has that autograph. Now, all these years later, the two are married and living happily together.
“We’re not even living together,” Dunbar-Kruzan said, laughing. “We haven’t found time to find a place together. So everybody’s like, ‘How’s married life?’ And I’m like, ‘Just like dating life.’ Our time together is very limited.”
Ever since her University of San Francisco days when she juggled five jobs, Dunbar-Kruzan has been a hard worker.
“I might know a handful of people who works as hard as she does,” Kruzan said. “But I don’t know anyone who works harder than her.”
Kruzan said that, no matter who she is with, Dunbar-Kruzan is always the same person.
The couple recently had dinner with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and his wife.
During the dinner, Dunbar-Kruzan didn’t change her demeanor at all, Kruzan said. It’s why he loves her. Both figuratively and literally — he says he’s “5-foot-12” — Kruzan looks up to her.
Another quality Kruzan loves about her is her sense of humor. He’s not alone in that line of thinking.
Jeremy Gray is the associate athletic director and was the PA announcer for the volleyball team when Dunbar-Kruzan arrived at IU. Right away he noticed her “sneaky” sense of humor.
Gray remembers one time on a road trip when the team was at a restaurant in Texas. Everybody in the place seemed to be 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Gray said, who stands at 5-foot-10.
“I don’t think I could win a fight against anybody in this restaurant right now,” Gray said at the time.
Whenever a new person would walk into the restaurant, Dunbar-Kruzan would look at Gray and just shake her head ‘No,’ meaning Gray couldn’t take the newcomer, either.
“More than any other coach, she,” Gray said, pausing to collect his thoughts, his smile growing. “She teases me in endearing ways.”
After the call, Dunbar-Kruzan again had a decision to make. Stay with a winning program — and her brand new house — or come to Bloomington, where volleyball success has been hard to come by.
She had a great job in Charleston, S.C.
“But this was home,” Dunbar-Kruzan said.
It was a tough transition, though.
“You looked at the history of IU volleyball, and there wasn’t a lot going on,” she said.
In the three seasons before Dunbar-Kruzan arrived, IU went a combined 5-55 in the Big Ten. She had to build a program from the ground up.
In her first season in 2007, IU went 6-14 in the Big Ten. After building the program little by little, year by year, the Hoosiers had their best season in program history in 2010, Dunbar-Kruzan’s fourth season.
IU went to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. In the tournament, IU defeated Tennessee, Dunbar-Kruzan’s old team.
University Gym was packed. Volleyball was one of the hot topics on campus. After the tournament run, Dunbar-Kruzan received a five-year contract extension to remain in Bloomington.
Dunbar-Kruzan received a base salary of $141,705 a year, according to an IU news release from August 2011 — a big difference from her first coaching job at San Francisco, where she made $10,000 annually.
Since that year, the Hoosiers have struggled. They are rebuilding again. In the three years since the Sweet 16 run, IU has gone 6-54 in the Big Ten.
Last year was a rough year for Dunbar-Kruzan. Her father passed away in August, just a week before the season began. On the court, IU finished last in the Big Ten for the first time in program history.
In the spring, Dunbar-Kruzan and her coaching staff had to evaluate their program.
“I was like, ‘What am I doing? I’m working my tail off, and I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels,’” she said.
She tinkered a few things, and this year the results have been better. The Hoosiers have gone 5-8 in the Big Ten — the most conference wins IU’s had in a season since the Sweet 16 season in 2010.
And IU has just one senior who will be graduating, outside hitter Morgan Leach. The rest of the team will be back for the upcoming seasons.
One of the biggest goals for IU this season is simple — get back to the ?NCAA Tournament.
When she’s gone from IU and done with coaching, how does Dunbar-Kruzan want to be remembered?
She pauses and leans back in her chair. Her office in Assembly Hall used to belong to one of the previous football coaches. When she moved in, she wanted to paint the wooden walls and freshen the place up a bit, but she wasn’t allowed to do so.
“That’s a tough question,” she says. “I’ve never thought of that.”
She thinks some more.
She talks about her coaches. Her high school basketball coach, Atkinson, especially. He was there for her when her dad passed away last August. He was the first one to call, the first one to check up on her. She has a connection with him that goes beyond sports. He cares about her as a person.
Her eyes get glossy. Her voice breaks slightly.
“I’ve had coaches in my life that have cared about me,” she says. “If I can make one of those people in their life, make a little bit of an impact, then that’s what I hope to do.”
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