ARCOLA — From a four-sport standout at Arcola, to a five-year, two sport college career at Illinois.
Taylor Edwards experienced more than most and is grateful for it all.
“I’m glad everything worked out the way it did, there’s not much I would have changed but it was definitely not something I could have chalked up,” Edwards said during a recent FaceTime interview.
Edwards shined at Arcola both in sports and in the classroom, becoming Valedictorian. She played volleyball, ran track and played softball but had the most success on the court, setting the Purple Riders’ all-time scoring record.
“The success and the sisterhood and the bond we had on the team made it the most fun for me,” she said.
Edwards pursued softball to be able to compete on the biggest stage possible. She won four letters pitching for the Illini, helping get the program back on the map under then first year head coach Tyra Perry. They both came to Champaign the same year, and led the Illini to the NCAA tournament three times in four years.
“I reflect back on how hard it was,” she said. “You know it was really fun but there were a lot of hard things we had to go thru and the long days that we went thru, they all paid off. A lot of that was attention to detail, a lot of putting your teammates first and learning what it takes to develop a culture and a team and program that’s capable of winning championships.”
Edwards thought her college career was over, then talked with Illinois women’s basketball coach Nancy Fahey about about joining the team. A fifth-year waiver was approved but she had to pay her way into grad school as a walk-on until a surprise at practice midway through the season.
“Getting that scholarship towards the end of January was just the icing on the cake,” said Edwards. “It was a good cap to the end of my career at Illinois and it just kind of affirmed it was where I needed to be and all the hard work was paying off.”
Edwards will wrap up her Masters degree in sports management in June. She wants to work as an administrator in an athletic department, giving back to athletes just like her, from a small town. That dream is getting a big jump start with a three-year part time gig as an NCAA autonomy representative.
“I am fortunate enough to have been trusted with the privilege to represent the Big Ten Conference on a national stage as a representative and advocate for all Big Ten student athletes,” Edwards wrote on her Twitter announcement. “It inspires me to want to continue to share that message with the kids that come from small schools. It’s not only about what you can and can’t do if you set your mind to it.”