From an early age, Kaitlyn Kushman's elder sister saw she had the hands of a volleyball player. Not just any volleyball player, but the hands for a setter. She picked up her first ball at 4 and by the time she was a junior at Lansdale Catholic, she was leading her team to a Philadelphia Catholic League title and taking home honors such as The Reporter's Girls Volleyball Athlete of the Year.
"My sister taught me how to play,' Kushman said. "I was always setting the ball up against the wall. It is all I have done in my club years. I love that role as the Queen Bee and the quarterback. You have to be able to step up to the plate.'
Kushman transferred to the Crusaders from Central Bucks South in her sophomore season and split the duties of dishing out assists. This past fall, she was the full-time setter and — with a group of experienced hitters surrounding her — put up big statistics. Her 721 assists, 226 digs and 86 aces helped her team reach the PIAA Class 2A semifinals and Kushman was named MVP of the Catholic League and a member of the All-District 12 and Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class 2A All-State teams.
"One of our biggest accomplishments was beating Pope John Paul II (in the PIAA quarterfinals),' Kushman said. "I think I connected well with all of my hitters. Everyone was very fast and just so determined to win.'
Kushman was joined by two of her hitters, Brynne Taylor and Alicia Kradzinski, on the PVCA All-State team. All of the Crusaders' hitters have different tendencies and it was the 5-1 force in the middle that made it all come together smoothly.
"Kaitlyn was the quarterback of our team and ran our offense,' Crusaders coach Joann Pisch said. "As a 5-1 setter she distributed the ball and did an excellent job. A championship team needs that dynamic setter.'
Kushman's teammates recognized her importance and she was named a captain as an underclassman. Pisch preferred to start games out with Kushman serving. She snuck in a kill every now and then, and made it impossible for teams to key in on one attacker.
"She led the team in aces and we tried to start most rotations with Kaitlyn serving first,' Pisch said. "Teams feared that strong jump serve. At first, people looked at her size and didn't expect that strong serve, but now she is pretty well known in this area.'
"Coach Pisch made me a much better player,' Kushman said. "She made me want to win, she made me set goals, and I have worked hard. If you don't work hard, she would probably she kick you off the court.'
Early questions surround the Crusaders if they can overcome the loss of a talented senior class, but with Kushman and two other starters still in the mix they believe they can win their third straight Catholic League title and get another crack at a state championship. Kushman sits with 1,111 assists entering her senior season.
"I am bringing back three of our six starters with Kaitlyn, Kelly Bergen (libero) and Chase Wassel (middle hitter),' Pisch said. "I feel like we are just going to retool and continue our success.'
Follow staff writer Andrew Marcus on Twitter @amarcus515.