Edinger dominates play with energy, enthusiasm


Illinois freshman Ashley Edinger serves a volley during a match against Iowa, Saturday, September 30. She is loved for the positive influence she has on teammates. Adam Babcock

By Lucas Deal

Illinois freshman Ashley Edinger gazes out intently across the Huff Hall volleyball court.

She and her Illinois volleyball teammates have just finished a demanding three-hour practice on the floor right in front of her, and yet, as she sits down, she can’t help but keep looking at it.

Support the Daily Illini in College Media Madness!

Help the Daily Illini take back the top spot in the College Media Madness fundraising competition! See the current ranking here.

learn more
donate now

She should be exhausted; she shouldn’t want any part of that court.

But she does.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    From the football field to the tennis court, stay up to date on all things Illini sports from the the best student sports journalists in the Midwest.

    “I like practicing,” she says, surprisingly energetic, considering the fact she’s been diving across a hardwood floor all afternoon. “To me, practice is the best part of the day. It’s the one place where I don’t have to worry about classes and homework and everything else. I just get to play volleyball.”

    That’s what it’s like with Edinger, Illinois’ talented, talkative and animated freshman libero. She always seems to find the positive.

    * * * *

    Ashley Edinger was born and raised in Michigan City, Ind., 40 miles west of South Bend. An athletic child from a very young age, Edinger credits her father for her competitive edge and physical abilities.

    “My dad played sports when he was younger, and I think that’s what made me want to play sports,” she says.

    Edinger tried a variety of sports before settling on volleyball in the fourth grade. She said she probably wouldn’t have started playing until fifth grade, but luckily her school was small.

    “I went to a private school, and we didn’t have a lot of kids,” she recalls. “We normally had a team for fifth and sixth graders and a team for seventh and eighth graders, but when I was in fourth grade, our coaches we unable to field a full team.”

    Edinger said the coaches decided to hold tryouts for fourth graders to fill the open spots and she decided to tryout. Things went well.

    “I made the team, but I made the seventh and eighth grade team,” she says proudly. “That was such a great feeling.”

    But with that great feeling came a great deal of pressure and responsibility. Some players may have struggled with it, but the lively Edinger took it all in stride.

    “As soon as I started playing competitively, I was like, ‘I love this, this is great,'” she says. “I didn’t see it as a problem at all, even though I was so much younger.”

    Not long after that, Edinger began playing club volleyball. In eighth grade, she received her first college letter. It was from Notre Dame.

    “That was so exciting, getting a letter from them,” she says, “I couldn’t remember who else I received letters from after that, but I will always remember the first one from Notre Dame.”

    Still unsure about her collegiate future two years later, she met Illinois assistant coach Mary Hambly.

    The two connected immediately.

    “I met Coach Hambly and Coach Hardin and they were both very nice to me,” Edinger says, pausing for a second as she remembers the event. “They said they wanted to have me at Illinois.”

    “There are around 310 Division-I volleyball teams and she could have played for almost every one of them,” Hardin recalls. “We were fortunate that when she visited here she was able to bond so well with our team.”

    Hardin thinks part of that is due to Edinger’s positive personality.

    “Her enthusiasm is infectious,” he said. “You can’t get down (on yourself) when you’re on the court with her. She’s got too much heart for that. She just won’t let you.”

    Her teammates agree.

    “Playing with her can be unbelievable sometimes,” said senior defensive specialist Stephanie Obermeier. “If you’re down, she’ll pep you up in an instant because she has so much energy.”

    She’s been a team leader ever since.

    * * * *

    As the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, Edinger’s play – and personality – is quickly gaining a reputation throughout the Big Ten.

    Luckily for Hardin’s Illini, his freshman is backing up the talk.

    Edinger is currently third in the conference in digs per game and fourth in the conference in total service aces. And with six matches remaining, Edinger is also within striking distance of teammate Beth Vrdsky’s single-season Illinois digs record of 520.

    It’s a record she wouldn’t mind winning, but she’s got her eyes on a bigger prize.

    “Before I graduate, I want to win a National Championship,” she says confidently and without reservation. “Winning individual awards and setting records are great, but my main goal is to win a national title. But I think that should be every athlete’s goal.”

    As for this season, Edinger knows the Illini could be better than their 14-10 record, but she isn’t making any excuses.

    “The Big Ten is a tough conference, we play some of the best players in the country,” she says. “This year hasn’t worked out like we hoped as a team, but we can’t stop, we can’t give up.

    “Whether we’re up 29-0 or down 29-0, I know I’m not going to give up.”

    * * * *

    Huff Hall is empty. Practice concluded more than 30 minutes ago and there’s hardly a soul in the building. On most nights, Edinger would be eating dinner at the Varsity Room with her teammates right now. Today, she’s sitting on an uncomfortable wooden chair talking to me.

    “Do you need to go?” I ask.

    “No, we’re good,” she says. “I’ve still got time.”

    That’s just the way it is with Edinger. She’s always willing to go the extra mile, to do whatever it takes to be successful. From her success on the volleyball court to her success in the classroom – her coach boasts that she’s a straight ‘A’ student in pre-med – she just knows how to get things done. And she does it all with a smile on her face.

    “As well as she’s playing this season, she’s blowing people’s minds,” said fellow freshman Kylie McCulley. “To be as good as she’s been and as positive as she is, she pushes us to try harder and be better.”

    If personalities were infectious, Edinger’s would be the plague.

    Finally, I’ve come to the end of my long list of questions. After finishing my note taking, I turn to Edinger and graciously say, “Thanks, that’s all I’ve got.”

    “No problem,” Edinger responds, “Glad to do it.”

    See, there’s that positive outlook again. It’s like her curse; it never goes away. And, come to think of it, that’s not such a bad curse to have.