New Coach Edwards Envisions a Volleyball National Power
CHICAGO - It was hard to tell who was more excited about the homecoming.
Was it Nadia Edwards, the former Lincoln-Way East and Penn State volleyball player who was named the new volleyball coach at DePaul on Feb. 12---or was it her mom, Millicent Edwards?
"Coming home to DePaul, it's an experience I really have no words for---this is the job I've always wanted," said Nadia, who has been an assistant volleyball coach at Ohio State the last two seasons.
"I've always kept my eye on DePaul, and now the timing is right. Everybody is really excited about my homecoming.
None more than Millicent Edwards, who immediately made plans to repaint Nadia's old room in their southwest suburban Frankfort home and to patronize a local furniture store in an effort to spruce up her daughter's bedroom.
"She thought I was moving back home with her and the family," Nadia said with a smile. "It was like, 'thanks for the offer, mom, but that's not happening.'"
What is happening is a revitalization of a Blue Demon program that went 6-23 last year.
"I want to bring people in here who share the same vision I have about the program," Edwards said. "I'm looking for athletes who are extremely hard-working and want to compete at a high level---both in the BIG EAST and nationally.
"Penn State worked so hard to establish a tradition as the top college volleyball program in the nation. Penn State was simply a bunch of blue-collar workers who shared a great vision.
"I want to bring what I learned and experienced at (NCAA three-peat champion) Penn State to DePaul."
Even as Edwards begins to build a bridge to prosperity, the former Buckeye has already begun consulting with other DePaul coaches.
"I had a chance to visit with (women's soccer coach) Erin Chastain when I was in the city recently," Edwards said. "She is a great example of what I want to do. Come in, hit the ground running, get the players on board and turn the program around."
In three seasons, Chastain has transformed the Blue Demons from a 5-13-1 team in 2007 and 4-15 last year to last fall's 10-9-2 ballclub that advanced to the BIG EAST tournament for the first time in program history.
As a former Chicago-area standout, Edwards knows all about the abundance of local talent.
"It all starts with a solid foundation, and what better place to begin building than Chicago," Edwards said. "There are a lot of talented volleyball recruits right here in DePaul's backyard.
"But over the years, a lot of kids have been going outside the state and away from Chicago to play college volleyball."
Edwards is ready to construct a pipeline to Lincoln Park.
"That is the goal, to keep the Chicago-area talent around here and bring them to DePaul," she said. "This is a great academic institution in a terrific location in a great city.
"Who wouldn't want to come here and have a chance to compete at the highest level?"
Nadia's twin younger sisters, Amanda and Christina, both graduated in 2008 from DePaul. Amanda went on to obtain her Master's degree in journalism from DePaul last year while Christina is working towards her Master's degree after receiving her Bachelor's degree in biological science. Older sister Tricia graduated from Illinois.
"Nadia stood out in a large pool of candidates who showed interest in this position," said DePaul Director of Athletics Jean Lenti Ponsetto. "Her coaching and playing experience gives her the background to successfully lead the volleyball program in the BIG EAST and at the regional and national level.
"We are excited about the future of our volleyball program in her hands."
DePaul's gain is Ohio State's loss as Edwards helped the Buckeyes reach the second round of the 2009 NCAA Championship after finishing fourth in the Big Ten. She worked with the middle hitters and tutored a pair of all-Big Ten honorees.
"Nadia and I have been together for over five years," said Ohio State coach Geoff Carlston, who headed up the Ohio Bobcats volleyball program for three years with Edwards as an assistant.
"Though it is hard to see her leave, I'm excited and very happy for this new chapter in her life. I have no doubt she is going to do great things at DePaul. They are getting a high-quality coach and a tremendous person."
Edwards was a middle hitter on a Nittany Lions team that won four Big Ten championships and competed in the NCAA Final Four three years in a row. Her teams compiled a 71-2 record with a national title in 1999 and runner-up finishes in 1997 and 1998.
Nadia played three seasons of pro volleyball, beginning with the St. Louis Quest of the United States Professional Volleyball League in 2001-02. She starred overseas for the Granada team in Spain (2003-04) and Glarus (Switzerland) in 2004-05.
She joined Carlston at Ohio in May of 2005 and helped the Bobcats advance to the Sweet 16 of the 2005 NCAA Championship. The Bobcats made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances with Edwards as an assistant coach.
"I want to thank Jean Lenti Ponsetto and (Associate Athletic Director) Kathryn Statz for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the Blue Demon family," Edwards said. "I am extremely honored to be the next leader of the DePaul volleyball program.
"I'm really excited about the chance to put DePaul volleyball back on the map. I know the Blue Demons were a very good program and an NCAA tournament team back in the early 1990s."
Ultimately, Nadia Edwards dreams of the day she can lead the Blue Demons onto the court to face Penn State and her mentor---coaching icon Russ Rose---for the national title.
"Oh wow, that would be a very exciting and special moment for both of us," Edwards said. "I have learned so much from coach Rose.
"It's a family at Penn State."
And there's a family at DePaul ready to embrace its new volleyball coach.