The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Kushner’s impact on teammates remains constant through change

Photo by Katie Craig
Graduate student Sarah Kushner went from outside hitter to libero in her first year at Marquette.

Sarah Kushner has had a whirlwind year.

The graduate student libero played four years at Illinois State as an outside hitter before transferring to Marquette and making the transition from attacker to defender.

When she was first getting recruited by head coach Ryan Theis, there were early talks about the position change and what it would look like. 

“We asked her very early in the recruiting process. You know, are you committed to being a hitter? Are you interested in playing the libero, DS (defensive specialist) type role,” Theis said. “She was willing to make that change for a fifth to try and play at as high a level as she could.”

Kushner said the biggest adjustment when playing libero is where she stands on the court. 

“I’m still passing, I’m still serving, I’m still playing defense,” Kushner said. “I just tried to get as many reps as possible in that new area so that I would be able to feel comfortable with the adjustment of the balls coming at me at a different angle.”

To help adjust, she spent the summer doing drills where she was restricted to one side of the court and had to return balls from that area.

Change No. 1.

■ ■ ■ ■

But it’s not only the position. Kushner is also going from the minors to the majors of college volleyball.

For her first four years, she would play a top-level team a few times a year. This year, with the Golden Eagles’ gauntlet non-conference schedule, it is every weekend.

“Something at ISU we that we would look forward to is, in preseason or the NCAA Tournament, if we got to play one of those teams,” Kushner said. “It would be maybe once or twice a year that we’d get put up against a Marquette, an Illinois, a Purdue. Whereas this, it’s every single weekend.”

Illinois State is a David. Marquette is a Goliath.

Change No. 2.

■ ■ ■ ■

As a Redbird, she played in a 10,500 seat arena with a thousand fans. As a Golden Eagle, she plays in the 3,700-seat Al McGuire Center with a thousand fans.

“The Al (McGuire Center) is tighter. I feel closer to the fans,” Kushner said. “There’s a lot more students that go to these games than ISU.”

But what beats 10,500 and 3,700? How about 17,037, which was the number of fans inside Fiserv Forum for Marquette vs Wisconsin in the arena’s first-ever volleyball game.

Kushner had seen a sold-out Fiserv before last Wednesday — she was at the 2022 Marquette vs Wisconsin men’s basketball game when the volleyball match was announced on her official visit — but it being filled for volleyball was another feeling.

A few days before the match, Kushner was walking into The Mecca, a restaurant across the street, when she turned and looked at Fiserv.

“I just look and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s where I’m gonna be playing in two days,'” Kushner said.

The game broke records, becoming the most-attended indoor regular season volleyball match.

Slightly different than what she played in front of at Illinois State? Yep.

Change No. 3.

■ ■ ■ ■

She first arrived in Milwaukee in May, only staying a few weeks before going to Europe on a team trip. 

When she got back, it was time for her to explore Cream City and all it had to offer. Lucky for her, a lot of the volleyball players are Wisconsinites. 

“They’re taking me to all of the fun places around town,” Kushner said. “I’ve been to the Third Ward, the Public Market, Bayshore.”

She was in Normal, Illinois for four years and moved to the anything-but-normal city of Milwaukee.

Change No. 4.

■ ■ ■ ■

Kushner knew everybody at Illinois State like family. After four years, they essentially were.

But this year as a Golden Eagle, it is not the same.

Marquette returned most of its core from last year and only brought in two newcomers. 

In light of this, Kushner made it her mission to spend the offseason forming relationships with everyone in the program, especially her teammates. 

“Some (connections) would be deeper than others, but with every single person on the team, so that come preseason when we started two weeks ago, I would feel like I’m a solid member of the team,” Kushner said. “Having that comfortability, it’s just a feeling that you can’t train in practice, so having it just helps enhance the court experience.”

Kushner is no longer the familiar face that knows the program’s ins and outs. She became, in a sense, the newbie.

Change No. 5.

■ ■ ■ ■

All this — a new position, competition, crowds and city — but there remains one constant: her impact on her teammates.

In team huddles, after every point won, Kushner is the first person to jump in the air, stomp her feet, pump her fist and start yelling. She is also the last person to finish clapping.

“It just makes me want to be with her,” first-year defensive specialist Molly Berezowitz said. “It makes me want to play with her. She’s just a bright light in our world right now, and it’s just amazing to have her on this team.”

Every time senior outside hitter Aubrey Hamilton goes up to get a kill, Kushner is behind, watching the opposing team’s blockers and telling Hamilton what to do. When she yells “Swing,” Hamilton swings. When she doesn’t, Hamilton doesn’t.

Off the court, she is the one to reach out to the younger players, especially Berezowitz, to help them navigate every aspect of college, from classes to friendships to life.

“She’s just helped me ease into it,” Berezowitz said.

Kushner’s been around the block, and she knows it, so any opportunity to help someone with less experience is not something she’ll say no to.

But is this willingness to support change No. 6 for Kushner in her first year at Marquette?

Definitely not.

This story was written by Jack Albright. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter/X @JackAlbrightMU.

Story continues below advertisement
Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
Jack Albright
Jack Albright, Executive Sports Editor
Jack Albright is a sophomore from Charlton, Massachusetts studying journalism. He is the Executive Sports Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-24 school year. In his free time, Jack likes to hang out with friends and watch Formula 1. He is excited to write fun stories about all things Marquette athletics and oversee new types of digital content.
Katie Craig
Katie Craig, Staff Photographer
Katie is a Staff Photographer at the Wire. She is a first-year from Lakeville, MN studying digital media and minoring in advertising. In her free time, Katie enjoys photography and hanging out with her friends. This year Katie is looking forward to getting to know more people and improving her photography skills.

Comments (0)

All Marquette Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *