Edwards assumes Piasa Birds softball reins

PIASA – Amanda Edwards remembers the first time she knew anything at all about Southwestern softball. It’s something she can still see vividly in her mind’s eye.

“I remember as a little kid being in Shipman and seeing the 2006 Southwestern girls riding on the fire truck in their welcome home parade from state,” Edwards said. “I said then and there, ‘I’m gonna do that’

“‘I’m gonna play softball at Southwestern and we’re gonna go to state. And I want to coach and be a teacher there.”‘

If Edwards gives you numbers to play in the Lotto, best take her up on it. It seems she’s a pretty accurate prognosticator.

She indeed grew up to play for a pair of Southwestern teams that went to the IHSA State Tournament. And earlier this month, she was named the new head coach of the Piasa Birds softball team after serving as assistant coach to Peg Mitchell, who retired.

“It’s a dream come true for me,” Edwards said.

Edwards’ maiden name was Mitchell, but she’s no relation to Peg Mitchell.

“We were always ‘Big Coach’ and ‘Little Coach,'” Peg Mitchell said with a smile. “Otherwise, having two Coach Mitchells didn’t work.”

Edwards stands 4 feet, 10 inches tall.

“Ten and a half,” she fitted.

Mitchell, who coached the Southwestern softball team for 12 seasons, said being able to add Edwards to her coaching staff six years ago was a golden opportunity.

“Amanda played for me my first year at Southwestern,” she said. “She was a hard worker and always very eager to do whatever she could to help the team win.”

Bringing Edwards on board was, in a way, part of a long-range plan.

“I asked her if she was interested,” Mitchell said, “and if it worked out, possibly moving to head coach when I retired.”

Edwards jumped at the chance.

“We got into this with the idea that this might eventually happen,” Edwards said. “It’s bittersweet. I’ll really miss Peg.

“As an assistant, we were like peanut butter and jelly. There was never a decision made that we weren’t both in on. (Mitchell) taught me a lot. She knows how to make it fun, but she also knows how to take care of business.

“We’re alike in some ways. We have the same winning mindset. If you work on the little things, the big things, like wins and trophies, will fall into place.

“One thing that’s important to me is if a kid is coachable,” Edwards said. “I don’t care as much about talent as I do about what kind of teammate they are, how coachable they are and most important, if they’re a good student.

“I always played as if little kids were watching me. I would think about what kind of role model I wanted to be.”

Edwards played on back-to-back state teams at Southwestern under former coach Erin McAfee. her freshman season, the Piasa Birds finished fourth in the Class 2A state tourney. The next year, they finished second, falling to Stanford Olympia in the state championship game.

Her freshman season, Edwards was coming off her first of two ACL injuries. Then, six games into her junior season, she tore the ACL in her other knee, her right.

After an off season of rehab, Edwards was ready for her senior season. Her first with Mitchell.

Edwards went on to play two season at Lewis and Clark Community College under coach Ronda Roberts, then played two season at St. Gregory’s in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Her coach at St. Gregory’s was DJ (Mathis) Sanchez, the former Roxana High All-Stater who went on to play at Oklahoma.

“I was blessed to go to St. Gregory’s,” said Edwards, who added that Sanchez had heard about her through her contacts in the area.

When she returned to the Riverbend following college, Edwards spent three years as a teacher at Evangelical School in Gofrey.

“I taught kindergarten through eight-grade PE two years and taught third grade one year,” she said. “And my second year there, they needed a baseball coach, so I coached middle school baseball.”

Edwards now teaches science at Southwestern Middle School, where she will continue to coach the softball team.

“Coaching at the middle school also has its advantages,” she said. “Our freshmen coming in next season will already know me as a head coach.

Illinois middle schools play a fall softball season, while high school softball season takes place in spring.

The Piasa Birds went 8-12 overall last season and were 4-3 in the South Central Conference.

“We were relatively young last year,” Edwards said. “We’re still young, with one senior and three juniors plus a lot of sophomores. They’re gritty and they’re hard-working.”

Edwards and her husband, Luke Edwards, are expecting their first child late this year.

“The plan is for the baby to arrive around the time for me to use the (Christmas) break as time off, then be able to get started with preseason softball.”

If Edwards’ predictions stay true to form, you can bank on that plan.

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