Rock Chalk Weekly: Leaving Her Mark
Written by Erin Meyer, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Tiana Dockery is about to make the Jayhawk record books as the first individual in the volleyball program to make it to four NCAA Tournaments.
Dockery, a 5-10 outside hitter from Richmond, Texas, has played in all but six games during her time on the University of Kansas volleyball team. She’s become a trailblazer in a new era of unprecedented success for Jayhawk volleyball, one that includes broken records and NCAA Tournaments.
However, Dockery isn’t the only member of her family to leave their mark in history.
Dockery’s great-grandfather, Emmett R. Harrison, was one of approximately 400 Navajo Code Talkers for the United States Marine Corp during World War II.
During the War, the Japanese were extremely proficient at breaking into military radio transmissions and deciphering military codes. Navajo Marines were recruited to devise a secret military code using their native language. This code was so successful that it is credited to saving countless American lives and led to victory in the South Pacific Theater during the war. This code was so closely guarded that it was not declassified until 23 years after the war ended in 1968.
Harrison served in the Marines from 1943 to 1945 directly under General Douglas MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific area. In 2001, the George W. Bush administration retroactively awarded Harrison and the other Navajo Code Talkers with the Congressional Silver Medal.
Though Harrison passed away in 1981 and never got to meet his great-granddaughter, Dockery carries many of his traits on-and-off the court today. One of which is her team-first attitude.
“It’s a ‘we’ instead of an ‘I’ with [Dockery] and that’s exactly how my dad was,” said La Vone Royston, Dockery’s grandmother.
Off the court, Dockery is very independent – a trait that runs in her family.
“She’s very independent person, just like her great-grandfather. Even now she doesn’t want to be shown as ‘The Volleyball Player’ and doesn’t like to be centered out. She’s very private like that,” said Royston.
Dockery and her family are deeply rooted in the Navajo nation as Tiana’s fourth-generation uncle was the chairman of the Navajo nation and her great-uncle was a delegate to the Navajo Nation for eight years.
Her family still continues many Navajo traditions today.
“This year for graduation my family wants me to wear a native dress,” said Dockery. “Turquoise jewelry is a really big thing too. There are some other things like owls are bad luck…and if a wolf crosses the street you can’t drive through his path. You have to turn around. It all seems so normal to me, but I guess that’s something different for us,” she said with a laugh.
Dockery has also committed to learning more about her heritage.
“I go over to Haskell [University] and have met a bunch of great people there. Some people have even known my mom and my sister so they teach me and bring out some facts. It’s this whole other part of me that I think is great. I’ve yet to go to a powwow but I think I will after the season is over,” Dockery said.
A powwow is a social gathering held by many different Native American communities to celebrate various events and holidays.
Athletics are also a deeply-rooted tradition in Dockery’s family. Both of her parents were athletes and she has two cousins, Derrick and Kevin Dockery, who played in the National Football League (NFL). Her younger sister and cousins are starting to pick up volleyball as well.
“Everyone pretty much played a sport or was encouraged to play a sport but [my parents] didn’t really push it too much so we were able to feel out what else we wanted to do,” Dockery explained.
Growing up, Dockery participated in track and lettered for three years on her high school track team, winning a long jump state championship in 2011 as a junior.
But surprisingly, it wasn’t until seventh grade when her friends convinced her to try out for the school team that Dockery started playing volleyball.
“As soon as my mom found out, she took me to the park to teach me the basics,” Dockery said. “I made the ‘A’ team because I got all of my serves over and it just got better from there.”
Once Dockery started playing, she never looked back as she quickly fell in love with the sport that turned into a passion.
“Volleyball is something that makes me happy,” Dockery said. “It’s something I want to work really hard at and keep getting better at every part of it. I want to learn everything about it and keep learning about it.”
After playing on a club team for six years, Dockery began her collegiate career with the Jayhawks in 2012, thanks to special attention from head coach Ray Bechard.
“Coach B [Bechard] was the only head coach who would write me letters on these Kansas cards and that really stuck out to me,” said Dockery. “I knew nothing about Kansas at all. When I came on my official visit I had so much to learn. I met Thomas Robinson and the Morris twins [Marcus and Markieff] and I had no clue who they were or that basketball was even a big deal,” she said, innocently.
The Jayhawks barely ended up with a winning season prior to Dockery’s arrival but she decided she liked the school regardless of how the team, which ended up 15-14 that year, was doing. She was on a mission to improve Kansas volleyball.
As a freshman, Dockery started in 20 matches, saw time in all but two and was rewarded with conference awards and a coveted spot on the 2012 All-Big 12 Freshman Team. Her freshman season was also Kansas’ first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years. Unfortunately, the team lost in the second round to Wichita State.
Her sophomore year, Dockery picked up right where her freshman season ended as she was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week after a stellar showing at the Kansas Invitational. She was a key player in Kansas’ first-ever run to the Sweet 16 that season as well.
“It was just an overwhelming feeling. It made the whole rest of season just awesome. I really want it again and I’m pretty sure it can happen again with this team,” Dockery said with a smile, hoping to recreate that feeling this year with the 2015 team.
Dockery continued to lead the team her junior year. She saw the court in every match and started in 21 of them. She obtained many conference awards and a chance to play in a third NCAA Tournament. This one didn’t end up as well as the year before as the Jayhawks lost a heart-breaking match against Arkansas Little-Rock in the tourney’s opening round.
“After we lost in the tournament all of the girls said, ‘That’s just not happening again’ and from that moment right there, that was our mindset. That cannot happen again. What can we do to change that and fix that?” said Dockery.
That change came over the summer when Kansas volleyball headed to Europe on a training trip that combined cultural education with volleyball. The team went 6-1 in competition and traveled to destinations in Italy, France and Spain.
“Europe was great. It brought us a lot closer to each other,” Dockery said. I think that’s a big part of our success this year. It helped us off the court, which definitely helped us on the court.”
That success began immediately this year as the program had an unprecedented 19-0 record to start the season. Dockery leads the Crimson and Blue as a senior on the team and will be rewarded with a fourth-consecutive invite to the NCAA Tournament.
“Beginning with this team here, I feel like that’s going to be tradition now, just going to the tournament every single year,” Dockery said. “It’s great that it started with my class. I was the first Jayhawk to go to the tournament all four years and that’s wonderful. That’s something that will be stuck in my mind forever.”
Though volleyball is still in season, the Jayhawks hope to continue to build on their already-strong season in preparation for their fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The 64-team field will be announced on Sunday, November 29 and the Tournament will be held from December 4-19. The championship will be held in Omaha, Nebraska this season.
“It’s still far out so right now; we’re just focusing on the next game,” explained Dockery. “We’re working hard every day and taking practices very seriously to get us to where we need to be.”
Her demeanor softened when asked about her final season.
“It’s really almost over. I’ve loved being a part of something so great. It’s going to stick with me forever,” she said sincerely.
While she may be finishing up playing at a collegiate level, Dockery plans on continuing her passion for volleyball through coaching, as off the court she is majoring in sports management.
“I have a few things up my sleeve,” she said with a smile and a laugh. “I know I want to coach. It’s something I have a passion for, even if I don’t get paid for it. I want to help players develop and get better.”
While leaving their mark and tradition are nothing new to Tiana Dockery and her family, she will always be known as a trailblazer in Jayhawk volleyball.
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