By Jimmy Cassidy, Jared Prenda
When Nagy Abdelrazek took the job as head coach of Catholic University’s volleyball team two weeks before the beginning of the 1993 season, he knew he had some serious work to do to improve the fledgling program. He had just three returning players on the roster, a few short of the minimum of six required to compete in a match. After 25 years in charge, Abdelrazek notes that things have come a long way, but that he owes it to the character of his players each season.
“You’ll laugh, but we actually put an ad in The Tower that first season to get some walk-ons to fill out the roster,” Abdelrazek said. “I remember getting into the white van with my team of six and driving them to and from games. A lot has changed!”
Abdelrazek, who came to the United States from Egypt, recruited walk-on players in that first 1993 season to assemble a competitive team, and used his impressive volleyball background as a coach to go from there. During many of the first practices, he and his best returning player, Cris Waterhouse, would play on one side while the rest of the squad would take the other to scrimmage. That group, referred to in The Tower as “The Iron 6”, had quite a remarkable season with a 32-13 record. Less than two years from taking over a rag-tag bunch, Abdelrazek added three more players and led his team to win the 1994 Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) championship.
This past fall, Abdelrazek finished his 25th season at Catholic, sending off a group of 7 seniors, a group he is very proud of and will miss. During his career, Abdelrazek has eclipsed 500 wins, been named CAC Coach of the Year four times (1994, 1999, 2000, 2001), and has turned the once struggling team to a perennial Landmark Conference playoff contender. His greatest stretch came during the 1999-2002 seasons, which included the 2001 team that ended up ranked 16th in the nation in 2001, finishing with a record of 38-3. It was the first team to advance to the NCAA tournament.
Plaques, trophies, and certificates line the walls of his office in the DuFour Athletic Center, but Abdelrazek is the most proud of his players. He admires their dedication on the court and in the classroom, and he loves keeping up with them after graduation.
“I cannot put a price on it, for what these girls do every semester in the classroom,” Abdelrazek said. “It’s amazing to see so many players on the All-Academic honor roll and compete so hard here too.”
Abdelrazek knew he made the right decision to come to Catholic from the immediate support he felt from the athletic department and the rest of the school. He spoke of a couple times in which former University President Rev. David M. O’Connell helped him out.
On one occasion early in his coaching career, Abdelrazek was having lunch with a recruit, and O’Connell came over to introduce himself and talk highly of the volleyball program and Catholic. A few years later, one of Abdelrazek’s senior players could not make the drive to Ohio for the NCAA Tournament because of a kidney stone. O’Connell then flew her out to Ohio so she could be with the team for the moment.
The coach didn’t always have the same passion for the sport, however, and actually found the game as an “accident” despite coming from a prominent family in Egyptian volleyball. He was 14 years old when he carried his cousin’s duffel bag to a practice, with the promise of a day on the beach afterwards. Abdelrazek initially only wanted to watch the practice, but the coach did not allow it and told him he had to play.
“I ran back into the changing area and grabbed two different-sized shoes just to play,” Abdelrazek said. “It was very hard to stop playing after I started.”
Only two years later, Abdelrazek started playing for his club at the national level, which soon led to a college career, where he played four years at the University of Alexandria in Egypt. After his playing career ended, coaching was a logical continuation to stay in the game in his mind. He began instructing clinics and getting coaching certifications. He is now a Level III certified coach, a prestigious certification from the International Volleyball Federation, which gives him the ability to coach at the international level. Abdelrazek has helped with coaching the Egyptian national volleyball team in time spent back home, but has no current desire to leave his spot at Catholic.
Abdelrazek, who is also the director of intramural sports for the athletic department, notes that recruiting has been hugely important in building the program.
“At Catholic, we offer a place in the nation’s capital that can succeed in the classroom and in the game,” Abdelrazek said. “We can’t offer an athletic scholarship, so they have to commit to this! And they do. Some are more frustrated than me after a loss; I love the passion.”
He says some of his favorite moments include seeing former players come back to games with families of their own, a reminder of the great times he’s had coaching at Catholic.
“Twenty-five years, can’t believe I’m saying that,” Abdelrazek said. “But this is what happens when you’re doing something you love, you don’t work a day in your life.”