Smyrna’s McCusker reaches volleyball milestone

Playing all four years definitely helps get a player close to 1,000 assists. But Smyrna’s Kylie McCusker says the most important thing is the people around her. (Delaware State News file photo)

Playing all four years definitely helps get a player close to 1,000 assists. But Smyrna’s Kylie McCusker says the most important thing is the people around her. (Delaware State News file photo)

SMYRNA — Her teammates knew Kylie McCusker was close to a special mark.

So they approached her before Smyrna High’s volleyball match on Tuesday. The Eagles wanted to know how many more assists McCusker needed to reach 1,000 for her career.

“They asked me, ‘Kylie, how many do we need?,’ and I didn’t even know,” McCusker said. “It was so touching how supportive they were to get there.”

The Eagles have already clinched the Henlopen Conference Northern Division title for this season, marking the third-straight time they have done so. They haven’t lost to another Henlopen North team since Sept. 26, 2013. (Delaware State News file photo)

The Eagles have already clinched the Henlopen Conference Northern Division title for this season, marking the third-straight time they have done so. They haven’t lost to another Henlopen North team since Sept. 26, 2013. (Delaware State News file photo)

McCusker ended up getting 25 assists against Milford. The senior became the first Smyrna player in history to earn 1,000 career assists.

She’s been a four-year starter for Smyrna, which is 9-2 on the season heading into tonight’s matchup at Delmarva Christian (5:15 p.m.).

Playing all four years definitely helps get a player close to 1,000 assists. But McCusker says the most important thing is the people around her.

“You need awesome teammates because assists are a team thing,” she said. “You can’t get an assist without a pass, you can’t get an assist without a kill. You can’t do it without your teammates. It’s impossible. You can’t put the ball over without incredible hitters”

And there’s been a sense of continuity with the people around McCusker over the last three years.

When she was a sophomore, the Eagles had five freshmen who would see time on the court. Those five, Reece Trabaudo, Erin Smallwood, Julia Lutrell, Sarah Workman and Madison Drummond, are now juniors and have played together on varsity with McCusker their whole careers.

They’ve also been playing with her at setter since middle school and with club teams in the offseason.

“We always know the ball is going to be in a good spot,” Workman said.

“I got really lucky because the class below me is big,” McCusker said. “We got comfortable with each other my sophomore year.”

McCusker comes from a volleyball family, her mother was a setter and her father is a coach in Kent County. She said she started playing volleyball, and setting before she was even in school.

“Her IQ of volleyball is just off the charts,” said Smyrna coach Danny Wandless. “She’s a gamer and I’m happy for her success. I expect her to definitely be a strong candidate for All-State. As a coach, I’m going to be sad to see her go because she’s going to be hard to replace.”

In a lot of ways, McCusker represents what the Smyrna program has become in recent seasons.

Since being one of the last teams left out of the state tournament in 2012, the Eagles have made it every year since then, starting with McCusker’s freshman year. In that season, 2013, McCusker helped Smyrna to its first-ever victory in the state tournament.

The Eagles have already clinched the Henlopen Conference Northern Division title for this season, marking the third-straight time they have done so. They haven’t lost to another Henlopen North team since Sept. 26, 2013.

McCusker and the rest of the Eagles are part of the generation who girls who grew up playing volleyball in the junior league, which Wandless helped start several years ago. That carries over to the Smyrna Middle School, where the high school’s varsity team was on Wednesday, watching some future Smyrna High players.

“This run we’ve been on is the product of several years of girls who have engaged in volleyball,” Wandless said. “They’re constantly around volleyball. Some of these girls were in my junior volleyball league when they were in fifth grade. People have invested into this sport and I’m just so happy for the girls and for the program in general.”

“There’s a bunch of us who have been playing together since we were like eight,” Workman said. “We’ve learned how to play with each other and work really well together. We know what to expect from each other. We come and support the middle school, we all help out in the junior volleyball league and they come and support us too.”

“Our relationship off the court is really helping how we play on the court,” said sophomore libero Morgam Holman. “How we play in practice is how we play in games. We work really hard together and everything we do in the offseason helps with our high school season.”

Smyrna is hoping to make it to the final four of the state tournament for the first time. The Eagles have lost to upstate powerhouse Padua Academy, Wilmington Charter and St. Mark’s in each of the last three state tournaments.

Wandless makes sure to schedule some of those tough teams early in the season to expose his squad to that type of competition. Smyrna’s two losses this year are to St. Mark’s and defending state champion Delaware Military Academy.

“We have the athletes, it’s just a matter of everyone on the floor making sure they’re on the same page and communicating,” Wandless said. “We also have to believe that one day we can be as good as those teams or better.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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