Smithsburg's Rishell makes instant impact on American volleyball program
Smithsburg's Sara Rishell made such an impact at American University, she was voted Patriot League's Rookie and Player of the Year. (Photo courtesy of American University)
Thrust into a starting spot as a freshman on the Eagles’ extremely young squad, Rishell made the most of her opportunity. She led American in kills per game (3.15), blocks per game (1.03) and hitting percentage (.317) to be named the Patriot League Rookie and Player of the Year.
“It was a great season,” Rishell said. “I couldn’t hope for anything more.”
Anything except a successful run in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. American (23-10), which won the Patriot League tournament for the 10th time in 11 years, will face Delaware (20-12) in the first round on Friday at 7 p.m. at Penn State. The winner will likely face the Nittany Lions in the second round Saturday.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Rishell said. “I watched American play last year on the internet and they went five games with UCLA (in the first round), so that was a big deal. We’re in the same spot this year. ... A lot of people aren’t going to expect us to get to the second round, but one thing I love to do is prove people wrong, and we’ll work extra hard in practice these next two weeks and hopefully turn some heads.”
If there’s one thing Rishell is used to doing, it’s turning heads. She did it for two years at the center of Smithsburg’s two-year unbeaten run (38-0) in 2009-10, including two Maryland Class 1A state championships.
American’s squad featured just two seniors and 10 sophomores and freshmen this year — giving Rishell the chance to step in quickly.
“We didn’t really know what everyone was going to play. I started on outside and was moved to middle,” Rishell said. “Once we got our set rotation, everything started happening. ... I knew last year American had two real big outsides who were seniors, so I was hoping coming in my freshman year I would be able to make a difference.”
Rishell said she never expected to win the conference player of the year honor, and credited her coaches over the years.
“Being brought up in the Smithsburg program brought out the competitiveness in me,” Rishell said. “With Baltimore Metro (club) coach Silvia Johnson and coach (Rachel) Brashear, I was taught by two excellent coaches. It was almost as if I was sculpted into the American volleyball player. American assistant Mike Rupp was also an assistant for Baltimore Metro.”