At 29 years old, new Cal State Fullerton women’s volleyball coach Ashley Preston has heard the chatter.
A youthful, electric smile coupled with a bubbly, friendly personality doesn’t exactly exude authority or acumen.
“It’s natural,” Preston said. “It’s human instinct to look at you and be like, ‘What do you really know? You look about 20; what do you really know?’… I’m aware that people look at it that way and so I don’t mind it, either. And I don’t get caught up in it.”
Yet, if Preston can replicate a little of the success she’s had over her career while leading a Titans team that finished with an 8-21 overall record last season, Fullerton women’s volleyball may be headed for a revival.
Preston’s career is an excellent case study in nature versus nurture.
On one side, the Victorville-born athlete has an illustrious powder blue bloodline that includes grandfather Bill Ellis, who played basketball at UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden, and uncle Dennis Price, also a Bruin, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders.
Younger branches of the impressive family tree include two cousins in Sheldon Price, a member of the Indianapolis Colts, and UCLA five-time All-American track and field standout Kylie Price.
Preston first showed glimpses of greatness when the then-outside hitter led Durango High School in Las Vegas to consecutive Nevada 4A state championships in 2002 and 2003.
Despite the triumphs, Preston did not find much attention as an outside hitter. With financial realities a strong factor, Preston headed east.
“I didn’t want (my mother) to have the burden of loans and all that, because she’s a single parent. So I went to the east coast, which worked out great for me and really showed me my passion and my love,” she said.
Preston accepted a part-athletic, part-academic scholarship to Division I Morgan State of Baltimore, where she transitioned into a libero.
“I also understand what it means to work for your scholarship because I didn’t get a full athletic scholarship until my senior year. To me, that always motivated me to do better,” Preston said.
At Morgan State, she rewrote the record books.
The 2008 alumnus is the all-time school career leader with 2,066 digs and is also No. 1 (640), No. 2 (525), No. 3 (489) and No. 6 (412) in the school’s single-season digs chart.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in telecommunications, Preston became an assistant coach at Morgan State and Loyola University from 2008 to 2010.
In 2011, Preston took her first head coaching job at Atlanta’s Spelman College.
In her one year at Division III Spelman, where Preston served as both women’s volleyball coach and sports information director, she led the Jaguars to a school-record nine victories.
From Spelman, Preston returned to Baltimore and took the head job with Coppin State, inheriting a team coming off a 5-24 season.
Preston led the Eagles to the postseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament from 2012 to 2014 when the program hadn’t made one single trip since 2006. In 2013, Coppin State won a program-best 15 matches.
Perhaps lost in all the stats and accolades is a track record of academic scholarship.
At Durango, Preston was a silver scholar, which meant she was recognized in the state’s top 15 academic percentile. At Morgan State, Preston was a three-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Commissioner’s All-Academic Award winner.
At Coppin State, 10 of her players were chosen to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference All-Academic Team.
For Preston, the objective for her athletes is not just about success in the Big West Conference.
“I’m really big about academics. I’m really big about, ‘What are you doing after these four years?’” she said.
One person in a good position to advise Fullerton players transitioning under Preston is Coppin State standout outside hitter Kandace Thomas, who earned a 4.0 grade point average under Preston’s watch.
“Academics are very important. We’re students first. So anytime we’d be on the road, there’s study hall. She’s always making sure our work is done,” Thomas said. “I just feel like all around, she was more concerned with us being good people overall, not just the athletic side.”
With Preston at the helm of the program, the future of CSUF women’s volleyball looks bright both on the court and in the classroom.
Note: Attempts were made over seven weeks by the reporter to schedule interviews with a student athlete at Cal State Fullerton and Athletics Director Jim Donovan to provide a more in-depth story, however the sports media department became unresponsive and did not follow through after initially agreeing to set up interviews.