A Lifelong Endeavor
Feb. 24, 2009
The concept of sport has become ingrained in today’s society. For a large portion of America’s youth, the dream of playing sports at the collegiate or professional level is often what fuels their growth and development through the years. For former Penn State women’s volleyball player Nadia Edwards, that passion for sport continues to play a part in her professional development.
As is the case with many, Edwards began her athletic career as a multi-sport athlete, running track while also playing basketball and volleyball. It was not until the eighth grade that she truly started to devote all of her time and energy to volleyball after she started playing with a club team. Edwards, who was also a member of the U.S. Junior National Team during her pre-collegiate days, fell in love with the sport and realized that she had a chance of being successful at the next level. One of the assistant coaches on the U.S. Junior National Team at the time was Erin Appleman, a former assistant coach at Penn State and now the current head women’s volleyball coach at Yale. Even though Edwards, a Frankfort, Ill., native, grew up in Big Ten country, the connection with Appleman led her to Penn State.
“Coming out of high school, I knew that I either wanted to go to school out West or within the Big Ten Conference,” said Edwards. “When I visited Penn State on my recruiting trip, everything really came together for me. Some people say that there are some things you don’t know about until you get there, but when you do you just get that feeling. That’s how I felt about Penn State, and I made my decision to attend right after I returned from the visit. I knew [assistant] coach Appleman from my days on the U.S. Junior National Team, so I felt comfortable when she and head coach [Russ] Rose came to visit me in my living room.”
It was a decision that worked out well for both parties, as Edwards became a member of four of the most successful teams in Penn State and Big Ten Conference history. From 1997-2000, Edwards and the Nittany Lions compiled an impeccable record of 135-10, and a conference record of 75-5. Including her redshirt season in 1996, Edwards was a member of four Big Ten Championship teams and reached three NCAA national finals. The ultimate accomplishment came in 1999 when the Nittany Lions defeated Stanford, 3-0, to win the program’s first national championship.
Although Edwards was playing behind several three-time All-Americans at her position, she realized that being at a place like Penn State and in a conference like the Big Ten allowed them to achieve the level of success that they did.
“The Big Ten has always been one of the top two conferences in the country for women’s volleyball and it is the same now as it was when I played,” she remarked. “At a place like Penn State where everyone is an All-American who could have gone anywhere else in the country, the day-to-day practice always had us prepared to face the best competition. It was an experience like none other because the passion for the game and support from the schools and fans is unmatched anywhere else in the country.”
Following a successful senior season in which the team once again won 30 matches, Edwards decided to take her game to the next level in the professional ranks - both internationally and domestically. For three years she traveled the States and the globe to continue playing the sport she had grown to love. Her career began in the now extinct United States Professional Volleyball League with the St. Louis Quest, and eventually ended up in Spain and Switzerland. The experience allowed Edwards to prolong her career, even though it was a struggle at first.
“Playing professionally was like starting over again for me,” commented Edwards. “In college you get to a certain level which in my case was the highest level with Penn State. Once you get into the professional ranks, though, you are playing with people from Cuba and Brazil with national team experience, so you really have to humble yourself. It was a great opportunity based on the competitiveness that I experienced, and it gave me a chance to travel the world.”
With her playing career now over, Edwards decided to take the next logical step for someone with a passion for a particular sport and went into the collegiate coaching ranks. After stops as a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech in 2003 and as an assistant coach at Ohio University from 2005-07, Edwards now finds herself as an assistant coach at Ohio State. The former middle hitter is involved with instruction related to the position, including hitting and blocking. She is also heavily involved with OSU’s camps and clinics. After playing for one of the legendary coaches in Russ Rose, Edwards is able to pull from that experience in her current coaching role.
“Coach Rose has always been a great mentor to me,” she acknowledged. “When I arrived at Penn State, I was really athletic, but also raw. Through my experience at Penn State, he taught me different ways to work on the areas that I needed to improve, but more important, he taught me to be a better person. I think it is my duty as a coach to give back a part of my experience and it is also easy to coach the women at Ohio State because I once had to correct myself the way that I now correct them.”
Although Edwards aspires to one day become a head coach at the collegiate level, for now she is enjoying the experience of working at Ohio State. Having a passion and love for the game will allow her to be successful and hopefully stay in this business for as long as possible. According to Edwards, that passion and love is deeply-rooted in her experience as a former Big Ten student-athlete.
“Winning a national championship was obviously one of the lasting highlights of my time at Penn State, but I also value the relationships that I formed and the people I had a chance to meet. Coaching in the Big Ten allows me to go back and visit people that still know my name. I can go back to Penn State and visit with President [Graham] Spanier or [Director of Athletics] Tim Curley and they are still the same people. It is nice to know that these people don’t just care about you while you are a student-athlete, but rather they value you as a person for much longer. As an African-American student-athlete, I have had so many opportunities and have been truly blessed to be involved in so many great things.”
Whether on the court as a player, or on the bench as a coach, volleyball has provided Edwards with the opportunity to make a difference; something all of her players will benefit from as she continues her career.