Ashley Ruckert was 3 years old when she first began attending Sacred Heart.

So to go from attending the school’s nursery to being a star volleyball player to now taking over the volleyball program almost three decades later is quite fulfilling.

“I call myself a lifer here,” Ruckert said. “This place has been really special to me. To be able to give back to a place that has been such a part of me is surreal and definitely a dream-come true.”

Ruckert takes over for the highly successful Mike Barnes, who led the program for 15 years. During his 15 years, Barnes led the school to six state championships (three-peating from 2000-02 and then again from 2004-06) and four runner-up finishes. He was named Coach of the Year by the Louisiana Volleyball Coaches Association six times.

“The Sacred Heart volleyball program is in great hands,” said Barnes, also the school’s athletic director. “Ashley knows what it means to wear the Sacred Heart uniform and the history and tradition behind the volleyball program. Sacred Heart means a lot to Ashley and her family. She is home.”

Ruckert, who was an assistant last season under Barnes, knows Barnes has set the bar high for the program. Ruckert, a 2003 Sacred Heart graduate, was a middle blocker on Barnes’ first three championship teams.

“They are definitely some big shoes to fill,” Ruckert said. “I had him as a coach, and he had a great impact. I just hope that I have learned from him and hopefully have a successful career like he has.”

It won’t be Ruckert’s first head coaching job. She spent two seasons in Texas as a head coach and five more as an assistant, as well as coaching club teams. During her playing career at Sacred Heart, she was a three-time all-state selection, Most Valuable Player in the state championship game in 2002 and also the Louisiana Volleyball Coaches Association State MVP that season.

“Ashley is an outstanding student of the game of volleyball and has developed into an excellent teacher of the skills and game of volleyball,” Barnes said. “It is fun to watch how well the girls respond to Ashley. They are very comfortable and confident in her teaching style.”

Ruckert went on to play at Elon University, then moved to Texas to coach before returning to her alma mater as an assistant last August. Now it’s her team. She inherits a squad that reached the quarterfinals of the Division IV playoffs.

“I’ll expect to carry on the winning tradition and expect our girls to play not only for themselves, but also for maintaining one of the best programs in the state,” Ruckert said.

Ruckert will make her coaching debut Aug. 21 when Sacred Heart plays Cabrini at Mount Carmel.