It’s hard to argue that Northside volleyball’s recent trip to Penn State meant more to any one player than it did to rising sophomore Nevaeh Edwards.
Edwards said she’s followed the Nittany Lions since middle school, when she picked up volleyball and watched the now-seven-time national champion on TV and YouTube. She said she knew about Northside coach Lindsay Johnson taking her 2014 team to State College, Penn., and was something she considered when deciding which Muscogee County high school to attend.
When Johnson told the team about the summer 2017 trip at the end of Edwards’ freshman year, she cried.
Edwards was one of 11 Lady Patriots to represent Northside at a 24-team camp at Penn State last week, but that was far from her only highlight. She had the chance to not only watch the Nittany Lions up close but actually participate in a scrimmage with some of the players.
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To call the moment a tense one for Edwards would be an understatement.
“When we first walked into the gym, I thought I was going to pass out. Coach Lindsay was like, ‘Nevaeh, calm down. Get yourself together,’” Edwards said. “The setter looked at me, and she said, ‘I can tell you’re nervous. Don’t be nervous. It’s OK.’ I was shaking. I was like, ‘Look at my hand.’
“The first ball, I was so nervous I like didn’t completely miss it, but I didn’t hit it. They set me again, and I got a pretty good hit out of it.”
Johnson’s second team trip to Penn State was a venture with several different objectives.
One of the primary reasons for going is introducing the Northside players to Penn State head coach Russ Rose’s program and show them the work the Big Ten team puts in. Johnson explained Penn State had three-a-day practice sessions: lifting and conditioning in the morning, serving and passing drills around lunch and scrimmages in the evening. The Lady Patriots watched the Nittany Lions at all three phases of the day.
“I told my girls, ‘You have the best in the country to talk to. Go ask them what they do for their shoulder rehab. Go ask them what they do in the offseason for weight training. How many hours do they spend working on this skill?’” Johnson said. “As a 15-, 16- or 17-year-old girl watching 20- or 21-year-old elite girls, it just inspires them. It shows the work and dedication you have to put in to become that.”
The trip included many drills and scrimmages, but it wasn’t all business-only. While the camp ran from Sunday to Wednesday, Northside flew from Atlanta to Baltimore on Friday. During that time, the team took in a Baltimore Orioles-Chicago Cubs game and later spent time riding roller coasters at Hersheypark.
Senior Emily Hendricks said the other activities were chances to strengthen relationships within the squad.
“Going into the trip, we were already pretty close as a team,” Hendricks said. “Going to a baseball game, sitting on an hour-and-a-half flight together and going to Hersheypark really helped us bond. The best teams really mesh well together off the court. I feel like it’s really going to help us play better, knowing each other so well.”
The players showed that a byproduct of the excursion was a sense of gratitude toward their head coach. Not every Northside player gets to go to Penn State, leading Edwards and Hendricks to describe being selected as honors and blessings.
The two also understood the work involved for Johnson to not only schedule the five-day expedition, but to raise the funds to make it happen.
“It’s actually a lot of work, with trying to get the money to even be able to go,” Edwards said. “Coach Lindsay really takes care of us. I’ve never seen a high school team fly anywhere, you know what I’m saying? She really loves us.”
Because of the fundraising involved, Johnson said the goal is to make the trip every three years so each class can go. She explained her desire is for players to return to the Northside program long after they’ve graduated. Many make good on that wish, judging by the team’s attendance at any given practice.
A huge part of the players’ investments in the team is Johnson and others putting the time and effort in to make a first-class trip to Penn State.
For Johnson, the end result has proven it all to be worthwhile.
“If you asked any of my players who went in ‘14, they will all tell you the most memorable thing of their high school career was the Penn State trip,” Johnson said. “They’re not going to remember scores of volleyball matches, but they’ll never forget the experiences and the crazy times they had at Penn State.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports