April 12, 2024
Life At Witt

Eye on the Tigers: Andrew Diaz de Padilla '24

Andrew Diaz de Padilla '24 Has Made The Most Of A Second Chance to Play College Volleyball

SPRINGFIELD — Andrew Diaz de Padilla has traveled thousands of miles from his hometown of Nipomo, Calif., to play collegiate volleyball in Ohio. He has made the most of that long journey, though, with four years at Hiram College before spending the past two seasons as a graduate student-athlete at Wittenberg. After winning a conference tournament championship with the Terriers in 2021, he's hoping to do the same with the Tigers this season to close out his playing career.

"It feels like we're peaking at the right time," Diaz de Padilla said. "I think we're in a really good spot, and if we can make it to the NCAA Tournament, we can surprise some people."

The Tiger men's volleyball team is in prime position to do just that. As part of an 18-8 record during the regular season, they swept through conference play with a perfect 9-0 mark to earn the Midwest Collegiate Volleyball League regular-season championship that comes with the No. 1 seed and hosting honors for the MCVL Tournament. Winning the two games required to earn the conference tournament title won't be easy, but seemingly nothing has come easy for the Tigers this season.

Wittenberg opened the 2024 season at 1-5, including a 3-0 loss to a Lees-McRae team that is now 1-26. That early adversity forged a tighter Tiger team, however.

"That adversity and struggle at the beginning of the year helped us," Diaz de Padilla said. "That put us into a state of mind where we felt like underdogs to a certain extent and that people were counting us out, and we play well in those circumstances."

Diaz de Padilla has played a major role in the turnaround thanks to both his leadership presence and play on the court. He leads the team with 561 assists from his setter position this season and ranks third in program history with 1,171 career assists in just two years. The program records for assists in a four-set match (53) and five-set match (52) also belong to him. But it's his leadership, consistency and overall volleyball IQ that head coach Nathan Matthews most values.

"In my first year playing at Wittenberg, I was on a team of all freshmen with no experienced guys to be role models, which is a bit of a recipe for disaster. Andrew has provided stability, advice and an example to our young team the past two years," Matthews said. "Without Andrew, there's no question that our young players would not have developed the way they have, and our team would not be in this position. Beyond that, Andrew has been an anchor of consistency for us on the court, and his IQ has helped us be the best offense in the conference."

That bevy of knowledge, skills and leadership savvy has been honed over several years of involvement in volleyball. Back in Nipomo, Diaz de Padilla grew up playing soccer, baseball and basketball through middle school. It wasn't until seventh grade that he started playing volleyball. In high school at Central Coast New Tech, he played basketball and volleyball as a freshman before deciding to solely focus on the latter over his final three years.

"I started on the volleyball team my freshman year and had a feeling that I'd be one of the leaders on the team for the rest of my high school career, so I dove into it at that point," he said.

As a setter, he loved being heavily involved throughout each game, which was similar to his role as a catcher on the baseball team. He also liked the idea of following in his mother's footsteps as a high school volleyball player.

Andrew Diaz de Padilla Men's Volleyball Graphic

During his high school career, Diaz de Padilla earned Second Team All-Conference honors as a sophomore and First Team All-Conference accolades as a junior and senior. The team advanced to the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs for the first time in school history in his junior year and returned there the next season. Despite all the team success and individual accolades, Diaz de Padilla didn't seriously consider playing collegiate volleyball until the summer going into his senior year.

Initially, he visited some state schools in California with the idea of playing club volleyball. But his mindset began to shift after getting a recruiting call from a coach at a school in Vermont. He proceeded to travel across the country for college visits in Vermont as well as to Elmira College in New York and Hiram in northeast Ohio. While there were some concerns on his part about attending college so far away from home, Diaz de Padilla eventually chose to attend and play volleyball at Hiram.

"I was worried about it, but I knew I wanted to give it a go and at least try and see if I'd enjoy it," he said.

Though he misses his family back in California and some of the aspects of his hometown, Diaz de Padilla has loved living in Ohio the past six years. One of his favorite aspects of Ohio is getting to experience the four seasons that the Californian climate does not offer.

"The summers here are amazing, and the spring when everything starts to bloom, and the fall leaves changing, and the snow in the winter. I didn't experience any of that in California, so being able to experience all of that has been a lot of fun," he said. "But living here has also made me appreciate California and my hometown a little more."

Diaz de Padilla's first year at Hiram, 2019, was the men's volleyball team's second as a program, so there wasn't a lot of success early on. But the team won the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Tournament title in 2021 to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament in his junior season when he got his signature butterfly tattoo above his right knee. The Terriers finished 20-12 the following year, and, having two years of eligibility remaining due to the Covid pandemic, Diaz de Padilla considered extending his career. Already determined to pursue a master's degree in sport administration and athletic coaching, he was faced with the choice of taking a position as a graduate assistant coach or to continue playing.

"Every former collegiate athlete I talked to about it said to play. They said, 'You have the rest of your life to coach, go play,'" he said.

With that in mind, he visited schools in New Jersey, New York City, Boston and Chicago before deciding to spend his next two years at Wittenberg.

"I reached out to Nathan, who I played against in my freshman year at Hiram when he was a senior at Wittenberg," Diaz de Padilla said. "I didn't really think that I'd go to Wittenberg, but I took a visit and was blown away by the facilities and the vision of the program that Nathan had pitched me."

The lower cost of attendance and cost of living was also a selling point, as was joining his longtime roommate from Hiram, Tom Supan, in Springfield as graduate transfers. He also respected Matthews' experience from his time on the University of Kentucky women's volleyball coaching staff in helping the Wildcats to the 2020 national championship.

A two-time Academic All-AMCC honoree and a Third Team All-AMCC selection during his time at Hiram, Diaz de Padilla represented an immediate infusion of talent and leadership for a young Wittenberg roster in 2023. Matthews has leaned on both Diaz de Padilla and Supan for their leadership, and their teammates have responded to their guidance.

"In the past two years, I've taken on a little bit of a coaching role from my leadership aspect. I feel like the guys trust in what I say when it comes to volleyball," Diaz de Padilla said. "I know there is a lot I still have to learn and experience, but they've put me in a position where I feel like my words matter, and I appreciate that."

He also credits his teammates for reinvigorating his love for volleyball.

"My last year at Hiram, I lost my love for the sport a little bit. They've healed me here and made me really appreciate volleyball and appreciate a group of 16 guys from different backgrounds and family lifestyles and economic situations coming together collectively to achieve one goal," he said. "It has showed me that I'm really excited to get into coaching and that I feel prepared."

Diaz de Padilla admits that there was some initial trepidation about trading two years of graduate assistant coaching experience for an extended playing career. But, thanks in part to a flexible online graduate program, he has been able to develop a network of contacts within the coaching ranks while gaining valuable experience working summer collegiate volleyball camps at places such as the University of Kentucky, University of Pittsburgh and Ohio State University.

"I grinded to make sure I was ready with the necessary connections to find a paying job for coaching after I graduate," he said. "I feel like I've grown a lot over the past two years, and I don't think I'd be as ready to enter coaching as I would've been had I gone the GA route because I've been able to do a lot here."

Diaz de Padilla is currently in talks with a Division I school about joining its women's volleyball coaching staff and is hoping to receive a job offer. While leading D-I teams to national titles is his near-term goal, he has also considered a future that entails him returning to the Division III ranks as an athletic administrator.

For the time being, though, he has his sights set firmly on leading Wittenberg to a conference tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth.

"I really want to be part of the first team here to win a conference tournament and make it to the NCAA Tournament. Only 16 teams make the NCAA Tournament every year, so that would be really special and the cherry on top."
Andrew Diaz de Padilla '24
Wes Mayberry
Wes Mayberry
Associate Director of Athletics Communications

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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