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From Player to Coach: The Life and Legacy of Eddie Stawinski

by Avery Jackson

Herb Brooks, coach of the legendary 1980 United States Olympic ice hockey team, once said, “Great moments are born from great opportunity.” For Montclair State University’s Head Women’s Volleyball coach, Eddie Stawinski, Brooks’s wise words remain true.

Coach Stawinski was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico where he discovered his love of volleyball from a young age. Though Puerto Rico is known for its competitive baseball, the country has a deeply rooted respect for volleyball, and was the reason for Stawinski’s endless presence at local games.

“As a kid, I would go to the pro league games and watch high-level volleyball growing up,” Stawinski said.

When Stawinski was not watching the pro league games, he would watch his older brother’s coaching at high school practices. Due to being around volleyball most of his life, Stawinski would eventually reach the professional level, after playing four years of collegiate volleyball at Springfield College.

Eddie Stawinski won two division 3 national championships as a player for Springfield College. Photo courtesy of Eddie Stawinski

Eddie Stawinski won two division 3 national championships as a player for Springfield College. Photo courtesy of Eddie Stawinski

After playing four years of Springfield volleyball, Stawinski was about to move into the next phase of his life. One week prior to college graduation, Stawinski heard his phone ring and was unaware his dream was about to come true.

“Upon graduation, like the week before, I got a call from a team down there,” Stawinski said. “They said we wanna sign you.”

Stawinski was excited to move back home to his old stomping grounds. He already had the ball rolling prior to his signing, as he played on a summer team in Puerto Rico, which would eventually sign him as a professional volleyball player. Due to NCAA rules, college players were prohibited from accepting money from leagues and sponsors. Moreover, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Stawinski.

As every athlete knows, sports are not just the uphill part of a roller coaster. There are bumps and obstacles that present themselves at unpredictable times. Stawinski would be challenged emotionally, as he was traded from the team that made his dream come true a few days prior.

“They traded me a week after,” Stawinski said. “That was really rough because it was a new experience and I was loving life, then all of sudden I’m getting traded.”

Despite Stawinski’s untimely trade, he bounced back shortly after. He was traded to the team named Caribes de San Sebastián, which would turn out to be a fortunate opportunity for Stawinski.

Head Coach Eddie Stawinski played three seasons as a libero for the Caribes de San Sebastian Squad in the Puerto Rico Superior League. Photo courtesy of Eddie Stawinski

Head Coach Eddie Stawinski played three seasons as a libero for the Caribes de San Sebastian Squad in the Puerto Rico Superior League. Photo courtesy of Eddie Stawinski

“It was about an hour and forty-five minutes from home,” Stawinski said. “It was the most amazing experience.”

Regardless of the long hours in the car, Stawinski loved this team.

“We would have like a hundred fifty people to come up just to watch practice,” Stawinski said. “It was amazing because my coach was a former Cuban national team assistant coach. I was playing with a member of the United States national team that played in the Olympics the year prior and then the other player was from Portugal.”

Stawinski’s unexpected trade would be proven to be a blessing in disguise, as he was playing with Olympians, foreign players and Cuban national team members. Playing with highly credible teammates and for a town that overflowed with support, Stawinski would be excited to start a career with his new team. Strenuous pressure would come along for the ride, but connecting with his teammates and playing for his home, offset any baggage that trailed behind.

Today, Stawinski reflects on his professional career and feels the butterflies in his stomach as he remembers the great moments that came from the experience. Stawimski relives his professional playing days through videos and teammates.

“It was a surreal experience,” Stawinski said. “Looking back at it, I was very fortunate. But it was one that I still, to this day, have old videos and I’m like that was amazing.’’

Stawinski and his team would meet at the peak of their season when they played in a coliseum in front of 18,000 people. This was the largest crowd that Stawinski ever played in front of and claims it was the first time he was ever nervous before a game. Several years later, the memories have lived on for him and moments like playing in front of thousands of fans have been unforgettable.

Volleyball has brought endless memories, lasting relationships and a new career for Stawinski. Retiring from his playing days, Stawinski would come to meet his new dream of becoming a volleyball coach. Living and playing in Puerto Rico established his love of the game as well as the life-changing opportunities.

“Growing up in Puerto Rico, the opportunities, like playing volleyball and I also wanted to stay with volleyball in coaching,” Stawinski said. “I was playing professionally and got the opportunity to be a grad assistant.”

The new journey would begin as Stawinski entered his coaching career.

Stawinski’s resume as a coach is one example of his knowledge and passion for volleyball. Now entering his thirteenth season as Montclair State’s head Women’s Volleyball Coach, he has undoubtedly made his mark. He has made a significant impact on Montclair State’s volleyball program and has become the program’s all time winningest coach and has made the NJAC Tournament 11 times.

Stawinski is not new to the coaching game, he has in fact mastered it. His current 2023 team is a prime example of his reputation. Players have come from all over the country to play volleyball under Stawinski and to have their name be a part of the reputable program he has built.

According to freshman middle blocker Lily Thomas, Stawinski has a true passion and dedication for what he does.

“He is very passionate about this sport and makes us all better,” Thomas said. “He motivates us to want to be better and to have fun together.”

Junior libero Katie Rodman has had a tremendous experience playing under Stawinski.

“It’s been a great experience,” Rodman said. “It’s my third year now and every year is always a lot of fun. He is a great coach and is always pushing us to be better as people and players.”

Head coach Eddie Stawinksi coaching his Montclair State University Volleyball team. Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

Head coach Eddie Stawinksi coaching Montclair State University’s Womens Volleyball team. Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

Coach Stawinski is a proud coach at Montclair State especially and loves the division three level. The university provides several opportunities for its players and has close proximity to one of the world’s largest cities. Stawinski believes that Montclair State has something special and a place in his heart. Due to being a division three athlete, he understands the importance of academics and makes that known to his players.

Photo courtesy of Markell Robinson

Eddie Stawinski has a career record of 225-150 as head coach at Montclair State. Photo courtesy of Markell Robinson

Opportunities appear for different reasons at unexpected times. For Stawinski, it was receiving a phone call to play professional volleyball. He made the most of this opportunity and achieved his goal of becoming a coach. The outcomes of opportunities will forever be unknown, unless initiative is taken. Stawinski has lived by this rule as his career of coaching was made through professional volleyball and his love for the sport.

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