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Growing into it: Breana Edwards continues growing confidence, skill for Big Ten volleyball



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Freshman outside hitter Breana Edwards prepares to pass Oct. 31 in University Gym. IU defeated Michigan, 3-1. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

Breana Edwards woke up late to take her SAT, and it was just the start of what she said was one of the worst days of her life.

IU Athletics announced Dec. 2, 2017, that volleyball Head Coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan’s contract would not be renewed. The person who recruited Edwards from the small town of Rainier, Oregon, would never get a chance to coach her. 

“It was a little scary,” Edwards' mother Tina Edwards said.

It left the Edwards family wondering what was next.

For 25 days the family was left with uncertainty, but on Dec. 27, 2017, IU made a hire. Steve Aird took over at the helm of the program.

“There were nerves all throughout because I didn’t know who the coach was going to be,” Edwards said. “I didn’t know if he was going to want to keep me, so that was awful.”

Then-IU commit Courtney Buzzerio made the decision Edwards was afraid she would have to make herself. Buzzerio decided to change her commitment and instead play at the University of Iowa.

“I had felt like we developed a little bit of a relationship,” Edwards said. “So, it sucked not getting to play with her.”

But Lexi Johnson, another IU commit, had the same vision as Edwards. After much discussion between themselves, both decided to continue the path to IU and were later joined by setter Abigail Westenhofer in creating the first freshman class under Aird’s tenure.

“I loved the school, and I didn’t really want to go anywhere else,” Edwards said. “As soon as Steve got hired, my first conversation with him, I knew I wanted to stay here.”

Nearly a year and a half later, Edwards was more than 2,000 miles away from home, shopping on Kirkwood Avenue.

Tina sat inside Nick’s English Hut eating a veggie supreme pizza. Edwards' father, Mike Edwards, ate chicken fingers as the couple reflected how they got to where they were.

The group was in town for IU’s spring matches against Butler University and Miami University, and it was the first opportunity for Edwards' friends to watch her play live.

“Even though it was spring, it was nice to have the support,” Edwards said.

It was her first spring season with the Hoosiers after a fall in which she flashed her potential.

After a torn ACL forced IU’s top outside hitter Kendall Beerman to miss half the season, Edwards' role grew with a lack of depth at the position.

Battling a stress fracture in her foot, a calf injury and having to get a cortisone shot in her shoulder just to finish out the season, Edwards continued to grind her way to a team-high 360 kills. The shy freshmen quickly had to develop into a leader, a role that Tina Edwards knew her daughter could handle.

“Leadership is definitely there for her,” Tina Edwards said. “Even if she’s not a captain, she usually just leads by her play. She’s a work-horse.”

Tina Edwards is no stranger to collegiate volleyball. She played at the University of Oregon in the 1980s. Having lived through what Edwards is experiencing now, Tina Edwards was by her daughter's side throughout the recruiting process.

“Going in as a high schooler, I romanticized the whole thing and then found out, ‘Wow, this is real,’” Tina Edwards said. “I feel like I had been keeping her eyes open through the recruiting process about the reality of the difficulties that you can face.”

Edwards' to Oregon after growing up in Southern California, while her father has spent his entire life in Rainier. Living in a small town, Edwards knew she wanted to venture out and find something new.

“When you come from a small town, there’s kids that are afraid to leave,” Tina Edwards said.

“Hey, I still haven’t left,” Mike Edwards laughed.

As a freshman in high school, Edwards was 5 feet, 9 inches tall. But she hit a growth spurt soon after, and now stands at 6 feet, 2 inches — a much more fitting height for an outside hitter in the Big Ten.

“She’s always been that late bloomer as far as physical goes,” Mike Edwards said. “She’s always had big hands and big feet.”

“And she grew into it,” Tina Edwards said.

Edwards remembers walking beneath the men’s nets during practices without having to duck. Despite not going to college, Mike Edwards spent his entire life playing volleyball as well at the club level.

It was at a volleyball tournament in Oregon that Edwards' parents met and paved the way for a life filled with the sports for Edwards.

“I went up to play and fell in love with Oregon and fell in love,” Tina Edwards said while pointing at Mike Edwards.

As a third grader, Edwards was cut by her parents from a team in an older age group.

“You weren’t my daughter in that game," Miked Edwards told his daughtere after a spring game with IU in which she struggled.

Edwards' parents have always been her biggest supporters, but throughout her playing career, they have not hesitated to point out her flaws. That is something they appreciate about Aird’s coaching style.

“You know what you did good,” Mike Edwards said. “But you need to hear what you did not do right.”

Soon after Aird got the head coaching job, came a hire that was close to home for the Edwards family. In January 2018, Krista Vansant was brought in as an assistant coach under Aird. 

Vansant was the 2013 National Player of the Year at the University of Washington, and the Edwards family was in attendance for plenty of her Pacific-12 Conference matches.

“I feel like it wasn’t even that long ago watching her play,” Edwards said. “She’s just such a huge role model.”

When Edwards struggled to handle the environment playing at Nebraska, she turned to Vansant on the bench. Vansant reminded Edwards of her importance to the team especially with minimal depth.

Vansant’s experience at the collegiate level allowed Edwards to power through the match and gain knowledge of handling those environments moving forward.

“I definitely hit some lows throughout the season,” Edwards said. “It gave me a feeling that I never want to have again.”

Her first Big Ten match came Sept. 21 against Northwestern, a match she said she doesn’t fully remember because of how nervous she was. Still, she was able to collect 11 kills en route to the team’s 3-1 victory.

Edwards' biggest enemy at times has been herself as she continues to look for more confidence while playing in the toughest conference in the nation.

“I find myself having a lot of negative talk with myself after practice,” Edwards said. “That’s my biggest thing that I need to work on.”

The 2019 spring games for IU served as a reminder for Edwards — who struggles to believe in herself — that the support of those that believe in her most is never too far away.

She has made her presence felt in the conference as she moves into her sophomore year. She knows teams will continue to attack her on the serve because her biggest weakness is her passing skills. But those around her have not been afraid to acknowledge what her struggles are. 

Edwards will have time back home in May, but it will not be to relax. Instead, it will be to continue improving her game and make the next stride in becoming a top outside hitter in the Big Ten.

“We know she has the potential at that level,” her father said. “I think she’ll have a good year. I’m looking forward to watching her.”

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