In volleyball, players tend to specialize in offense or defense. Freshman Nick Rusk, however, is a bit of an oddity: He’s second on the team in both kills and digs, which he credits to his beach volleyball experience.
“Over the summer, I play beach all the time with my friends,” said the visual and media arts major, who hails from Weston, Florida. “It brings a lot more communication, smarter swinging, and better passes. You don’t want to have your partner running everywhere, especially in the sand.”
Rusk is averaging 2.16 kills per set and 2.3 digs per set this season. The Great Northeast Athletic Conference named him rookie of the week in late February for his offensive performance, while head coach Ben Read said Rusk has done more for the team than just hit.
“He’s a great all-around player and a very good athlete,” said Read. “He can do everything well, so if we needed him to, he could set, he could be a libero, he could play right side, or he could play outside.”
Rusk said one of his favorite games was when the Lions played the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has been nationally ranked this season. He came out swinging, and though Emerson fell 3-1, Rusk had a season-high 13 kills—and it was his first collegiate game.
When Rusk played volleyball before college, he was also on a travel team. He credited one of his coaches, who played Division I volleyball at the University of California at Santa Barbara, with helping his passing.
“She played libero, so she taught us all about defense,” said Rusk.
The Lions’ libero, junior Jared Gross, said having the defensive-minded Rusk on the team has taken some of the pressure off of him.
“I allow him to take up much more space [on the court] than other players out there,” said Gross, a marketing communication major.
According to both Rusk and Read, however, Rusk’s blocking could still improve.
“[In beach volleyball] you only have two people, and you never put up a block,” said Rusk, who said he didn’t face many blocks in high school, either.
Though Rusk still ranks in the top five on the team for blocks, with 16, the Lions have the third least in the GNAC.
“[We’re] trying to have him help block more,” said Read. “Despite his size, he does jump very well.”
The squad’s small roster—just nine players—means Rusk has seen action in every set so far this season.
“We’ve asked a lot of him as a freshman,” said Gross. “He’s really filled that role nicely.”
With just seven games left, Rusk said he’s looking forward to the end of his freshman campaign.
“We’re right where we should be, and we can roll with the big dogs,” said Rusk. “The big goal is to get to the [GNAC playoff] tournament.”
The Lions (3-5, 10-8 overall) are currently the sixth seed in the GNAC, and Read said Rusk has been a large part of the team’s success.
“He’s just improving in everything, across the board, which is want we want to see,” said Read. “He’s already really good as a freshman and helping our team with our huge goals.”