The Wonderful, Whimsical Mind of Sue Everden

by Justin Long

Helloooo, sports fans. 'Tis the fall, and with the season comes the infamous call: "ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!" Watch out for the mistake-by-the-lake Cleveland Browns because they are definitely back. Thanks for calling the office of Sue Everden, head volleyball and softball coach. Please leave me a message or shoot me an e-mail and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Take care and have a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful day."

That voicemail recording helps to paint the vivacious picture of Sue Everden, Amherst's volleyball coach of 23 years and softball coach of 10. Her passion for sports (particularly Cleveland sports teams) and her unlimited cheerfulness and optimism are matched by very few—if any—collegiate coaches in the country.

It's hard not to wonder what current players and potential recruits think of such a recording. "I remember calling and being so nervous to talk with Sue," says Katherine Jordan '11, "but when I heard her voicemail tell me to have a 'wonderful, wonderful, wonderful day,' I immediately felt at ease. It helped me to distinguish Amherst from other schools."

"I have always believed that people need not totally buy into my personality," says Everden, "but they should know up front what that personality is: a combination of the Disney world in all of its magical grandeur, a historical recollection of sports that would knock your socks off, a rather whimsical sense of humor and a genuine love of laughter. My phone message offers a real sense of who I am without having to talk to me directly."

Still, you can't fully appreciate Everden's unique style without seeing it firsthand. This past summer, the NCAA updated its volleyball rulebook to state that during play, coaches must stay at least 1.75 meters from the court so as not to create safety hazards or interfere with officials' duties. While most coaches probably didn't flinch when they read this, those familiar with Amherst volleyball may have thought the rule was speaking directly to Everden, who has been known to mimic players' movements throughout matches and even dive on the court during thrilling rallies. 

As is the case with her voicemail, Everden has no reason to hide her personality while coaching. "I believe that if you want to see real passion out of your athletes, they have got to palpably feel the passion that burns in their coach. How can one not get terribly excited about watching young scholar-athletes striving to reach their potential in such a passionate way? It has been and continues to be one of my greatest joys in life, hence the excitement you see from me on the sideline."

"It's easy to take an inactive role as a coach and simply sit on the bench and only offer insight to players once the match is over," adds Amherst assistant coach Whitney Kouvaris '08. "Sue is always extremely involved in every point of every match; she really makes her players feel as though she is right there on the court with them, supporting and cheering for them during every play."

While it may sound like it's all fun and games in the Amherst volleyball department, Everden has built and maintained one of the college's most successful programs. Amherst has won at least 20 matches in a season 16 times in Everden's tenure and at least 25 matches nine times. Her most successful season came just a year ago, when the Jeffs went 30-5 and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinal round for the first time in program history. Earlier this month, Everden became just the 22nd Division III women's volleyball coach (and first NESCAC volleyball coach) to reach the 500-win mark.

As Erik Nedeau, head coach of cross country and track and field, notes, blending fun and success to the extent Everden has is rare. "Sue is one of the best coaches in this department," he says, "and it is because her love of the game is absorbed by her players. Being able to keep the game as just a game, while at the same time ensuring that success can be just as important without pressure, is a remarkable quality of a coach. She does it better than anyone here."

Still, her number of wins isn't the most meaningful figure to Everden. "Exactly how many of my athletes came in as children with untapped potential, and how many are leaving as young adults with not only the ability but the passion to change and contribute to the world? As they walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, this is what I take real stock in. Though this is a number never calculated, this is the number—not 500 wins—that I base my sole existence on as a coach."

Everden's priorities played a big role in Kouvaris' decision to apply for Amherst's Hitchcock Fellowship and join her former teacher on the sidelines. "I hoped that I would get the chance to take what I had learned from Sue as an athlete and apply it as a coach," she says. "I wanted to see from another viewpoint how she was able to produce such a high quality of life for her team."

And that's the key: a high quality of life. Everden's players don't simply learn how to become better athletes; they learn how to become better people. She is a guide, a mentor and a mother-figure who truly brings out the best in her student-athletes. 

See for yourself. Go to a match and watch Everden in action. Watch her hoot and holler, dive on the court and high five her team. Watch her players' reactions as she pays no attention to her surroundings and cheers and celebrates like a kid without a care in the world. 

While it's uncertain just how many wins Everden will stack up at Amherst, she knows exactly when her time will be up. "The day 'that was really fun' doesn't enter my cognizant thought after coaching is the day I walk away. If there is no sense of fun, then I have lost a total sense of purpose. There is nothing in this world as priceless as fun."