Edwards returns, emphasizing development at long-successful Arcola
Taylor Edwards became just the third coach in the history of Arcola Purple Riders girls basketball on Oct. 1 when it was announced she would lead program she was pushing to new heights as a player just a handful of years ago.
Edwards was a two-sport participant at Illinois: four years on scholarship for Illini softball and a walk-on for basketball (she received a scholarship for her last semester). She was a four-sport athlete herself at Arcola and has a deep fondness for the coaches who guided her in her time as a Riders athlete.
Now, she seeks to be the type of coach who gives her girls a similar experience.
“When I was playing high school basketball, my mom was talking to me about her memories and the values that she carried on from that program,” Edwards said. “So to hear people like my mom and my aunts and all the females around Arcola still talk about how impactful Arcola girls basketball was, it gives me chills because I’m in a position to where I can create that type of experience and leave that type of experience for the girls I’m coaching now.”
The now 23-year old racked up accolade after accolade in her preps career, being named first-team all-conference in the Little Okaw Valley for basketball three times. She set the school scoring record, was the 2014 Decatur Herald & Review girls basketball player of the year, hit well over .400 three times in high school softball and was an all-conference performer in track and volleyball.
A four-time basketball team captain, Edwards led her teams to a 79-37 record, two 1A regional titles and two sectional final appearances under longtime head coach Nancy Stiff, who held the reigns of Arcola girls basketball from its inception in 1973 to 2016. Edwards went on to enjoy success as a four-year softball letterwinner and accomplished student for the Illini.
“Having her, her experience in winning and all the tradition she had when she was in school, we hope to bring some level of that back to our girls,” Arcola athletic director Nick Lindsey said.
The young coach has already had a phone conversation with her former coach, who is already looking to come support her at games.
“I called her when I got the position and was just thanking her for the way that she coached me and led me and she promised me she’ll be at games,” Edwards said.
Edwards replaces Kevin Hohlbauch, who had the task of replacing a legend in Stiff.
“It’s not very often at a small school like ours that we get someone with Big Ten experience,” Lindsey said.
As CBS 3 in Champaign detailed in the video below, Edwards received a Master’s in sports management in June and wants to go into sports administration at some point. Her status as a high school valedictorian also lends her more legitimacy to her future players.
“I do think having that (valedictorian) on my resume just allows for them to trust me a little bit more when I do offer them some advice,” Edwards said.
Lindsey and Edwards are both stressing the development of players as a crucial part of Edwards’ responsibilities, but Edwards is especially focused on her player’s development in their personal and playing lives. She said wants her athletes to never feel like they have to go at anything alone.
“There was not a day that went by that I tried to do everything on my own in high school,” Edwards said. “I had so many people that were willing to help, whether it was the guidance counselor or principal or teacher always being willing to lend a hand. So I’m in a position leading these girls and my biggest thing is, ‘Don’t try to do it all on your own. You’re here at a small school. You have access to so many people that want to help you succeed and get to the next level, so just trying to get them to understand that we’re all here to help them and build them as people.’”
Edwards hasn’t had the time to decide exactly the style of play she wants to utilize — she wants to analyze what would work best in a man or zone defense, as well as a transition- or half-court-based offensive attack — she is prioritizing relationships over strategy to begin her tenure.
That has been on display, she says, at recent open gyms, where she has helped work with individuals looking to improve particular aspects of their games. Soon, contact days will allow the Riders to prepare for the start of mid-November practice.
“As soon as I came in, I wanted to establish that I wanted to be relational with these girls and really develop a good foundation of a culture first,” Edwards said. “It makes implementing a system and implementing offenses and defenses way easier.”
She’s also hopeful to stress the importance of time management skills, something Edwards says she truly came to understand in college.
One early sign that Edwards sees as a positive is how several of the upperclassmen have encouraged team-building activities even without Edwards’ urging.
“I didn’t have to say anything and the girls are already getting that going, and so it excites me moving forward because I already know I have some leaders,” Edwards said.
After the Riders went 15-13 and 6-3 in the Lincoln Prairie in 2019-20 (per MaxPreps), Arcola returns a talented bunch that includes seniors Ella Hopkins and Kaylee Hohlbauch, junior Ariana Warren, and freshmen Jacey Kessler and Kelsey Moore.
“I think we have a really good group of girls that not only want to win games, but want to lead and want to grow as a team as well,” Edwards said.
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