Former Bradford Woods resident named Coach of the Year in conference

| Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

A former Bradford Woods resident who has been fighting his way up the coaching ranks and working in numerous states has gotten some recognition for the hard work he has put into his profession.

Tom Symons recently was named the Coach of the Year for women's volleyball for his university's conference.

Symons is the head coach of the women's volleyball team at Ottawa University, which belongs to the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, or KCAC, in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Symons led his team to a 27-5 overall regular season, including an 18-0 record in KCAC action.

“It makes me proud of the work that we have done this year,” said Symons, 38, now of Gardner, Kan. “It goes to a team that has exceeded expectations.”

Symons, a 1992 North Allegheny graduate who played boys volleyball for NA, has completed his fourth year as the women's volleyball coach at the university in Ottawa, Kan., and said he has been working on instilling a winning attitude in those who go through the volleyball program.

“Before I got here, we would always finish ninth or tenth in the conference,” Symons explained. “Since I have been here, we have been able to take steps forward each year, and now, we believe we can win.

“We now think we deserve the opportunity to do well. In the past, we thought it would be cool to win. It's been a cultural change.”

Symons, who graduated from Slippery Rock Univesity in 1997 with a degree in physical education and sports management, has set many firsts in the Ottawa Lady Braves' program. The 2012 season has been the first season in which Ottawa has received votes for the NAIA national poll of top teams, as well as reaching the NAIA national tournament.

“He has been able to recruit some talent since he has been here. On the court, the team has been playing with chemistry, and it is fun to watch,” Ottawa University athletic director Arabie Conner said. “It's great that he received this reward this year. But this accolade is more of a culmination of what Tom has been building here the past four years.”

This is the fourth time an Ottawa women's volleyball coach has received a conference Coach of the Year honor. The last time was in 2004.

Symons has a record of 73-51 in his four seasons at Ottawa and an overall coaching record of 159-141. Symons still remembers where he grew up and said he is thankful for the opportunities he had there.

“I remember that my school was one of the few schools that offered volleyball for boys,” Symons said about North Allegheny. “During my sophomore year, the JV coach was my gym teacher and told me I should go out for volleyball. It was always my favorite activity.”

At Slippery Rock, Symons was an assistant coach for the women's volleyball team.

After graduation, Symons tried to make it in the sports-management field with jobs such as being a summer intern for the Dallas Cowboys.

But he couldn't forget how much fun he had coaching volleyball.

Symons was an assistant coach for the women's volleyball team at Northwestern State, where he received a master's degree in sports management, and then got his first head-coaching gig at Nebraska Wesleyan from 2001 to 2003. Symons led the the Prairie Wolves women's team to two NCAA Division III National Tournaments in 2001 and 2002.

From 2004 to 2006, Symons was the head women's coach at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, where he led the team to a school record of a 20-8 record in 2006.

But despite his stints as a volleyball coach at various colleges, Symons is not shy about letting people know he still has a sports allegiance with a Pittsburgh tie.

He can be seen on the small Kansas campus wearing black and gold in support of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Andrew John is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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