Is there any women’s sport that you haven’t coached?
The question makes Sue Everden laugh, but in roughly 40 years, 33 of them at Amherst College, the trailblazing, Disney-loving, tortured Cleveland fan has been at the helm of nearly every sport in every season, breaking barriers for women’s sports and changing the lives of countless student-athletes under her tutelage.
Everden has been the volleyball coach at Amherst since she arrived in 1986. Since then, she has won over 700 games and taken her teams to seven NCAA Tournaments, including the national quarterfinals in 2007.
Tallied together with wins as head coach of Amherst women’s squash, lacrosse and softball, Everden’s 700th volleyball victory this season was also the 1,000th win of her Amherst career. She is the first coach in school history to win 1,000 games, and she holds the record for most games ever coached, at more than 1,500.
Add to that résumé lettering in five sports in high school; playing Division 2 field hockey as a student at Slippery Rock University; coaching women’s tennis, lacrosse, and swimming and diving at Clarkson University; and coaching volleyball, basketball and softball at the Coast Guard Academy, and you’d be hard-pressed to find something Everden hasn’t had a hand in.
“The more things I could coach, the more marketable I became,” says Everden of her philosophy as she left Springfield College with a master’s degree in sports teaching and administration. “Most people went to coach at high school first, but I was convinced I could bypass that. I wanted to coach at the collegiate level.”
At Amherst, she was part of the explosion of women’s sports as the College went coed.
“Being a part of that barrier breaking was fun. It was intriguing. It was at times very frustrating, but it was all part of the greater goal,” says Everden. “I had dreamed of the days that little girls would have the same opportunities as little boys. To walk in now to those convention centers and see 150 courts all full of girls playing volleyball ... it almost brings tears to my eyes.”
She recruited Juanita Kennedy ’94 to Amherst, her first player from California, where volleyball reigns supreme. “I knew if I could get one Californian here and they had a great experience, the faucet would open and we would have a different volleyball experience than the rest of the schools in the Northeast.”
As expected, things changed for Amherst volleyball. On the 2018–19 squad, 14 of the 18 student-athletes are from California. Two others are from Texas, and one is from Hawaii.
Feeling as though she was building something in the Pioneer Valley in the early 1990s, Everden solidified her decision to stay at Amherst.
“Philosophically, [Amherst] just feels so right to me,” she says, “particularly for women, because they are able to get one of the best educations in America and play really good athletics.”
“I was coming to work for the right reasons. I was part of their educational process, but yet they were going to leave here and do great things, and they also had had one of the best athletic collegiate experiences they could ever have. What's better than that?”
When asked about her most memorable wins of the 1,000, Everden cites not only winning the regional volleyball tournament in 2007, but also the lone Amherst victory in the women’s lacrosse season of 1987.
Really, though, it’s not the wins on the court or field that rank the highest for Everden. It’s seeing entire bridal parties made up of her former players, watching student-athletes go on to star in the business, and receiving photos of the children of players she has coached—though she claims that it’ll be time to hang it up when she finds herself recruiting one of those children.
“Normally, people don't come back and remember how many wins and losses they had in a given year,” says Everden. “They remember the people they were with, the experiences they’ve had and how special their sport was to their experience here at the college.”
It’s important to her to help athletes cherish their college experience, adding: “It's my job. I recruited them. These four years…It has to be special.”