Q&A with AJ Cushman
Junior libero AJ Cushman earned all-tournament team honors after helping the Cavaliers to a sweep of the Holiday Inn Jefferson Cup for the tournament title last weekend. The Cavaliers opened their season 3-0 at home, but will head to Nebraska this weekend to meet two top-10 teams. Virginia will face No. 5 Nebraska on Thursday at 8 p.m., No. 8 UCLA on Friday at 5:30 p.m., and BYU on Saturday at 5 p.m.
Question: You earned all-tournament honors this past weekend for your play in the Holiday Inn Jefferson Cup. What does it mean to you to garner that honor?
Cushman: It was great, a little surprising, but great. However, volleyball is so “team oriented,” you can’t really single out one person’s performance over another’s because everyone on the court must depend on each other to succeed.
Question: The team won its second-straight Jefferson Cup title. What does that accomplishment mean?
Cushman: We won, and of course it always feels good to start with an undefeated record at home. We still have a lot of work to do, but it is still a good start.
Question: What is it about Mem Gym that makes playing there so special?
Cushman: Mem Gym is where we practice, play, get treatment, and it’s where our locker room is. Almost all of my classes are there too. I spend more time here than anywhere else. It’s like my second home. Furthermore, it’s a beautiful gym to play in. There is so much history within the walls. At the same time, it has been revamped recently so it still has a newer feel, even though it has been around for so long. I’ve have opponents say it is their favorite gym to play in.
Question: What do you think is the biggest difference between this year and last season?
Cushman: Last year was a transition year for us. We had a new coach, new systems, new style, etc. Everything was new and so last year was a learning year. This year everyone has a year of knowledge under their belts. I think everyone feels more comfortable and confident with everything we have learned, and now it’s easier to help the first years get acclimated.
Question: Being from Richmond, what made you come to Virginia to play?
Cushman: I know everyone says this, but the school is beautiful, the academics are very competitive and it has a great athletic program. When I visited the school, I loved the team. When I started looking at colleges, I thought I might want to go out of state, but then I realized that I had everything I wanted right here.
Question: How did you get started playing volleyball?
Cushman: I have been playing all sorts of different sports all of my life. I used to play soccer, softball, basketball, tennis, swimming and diving. Volleyball is actually the last sport I picked up. It was eighth grade and my school offered field hockey, cross-country and volleyball in the fall. I hated skirts, so field hockey was out, and even though I was pretty fast, I really didn’t like to run. That left volleyball. However, after I signed up I found out that you had to wear spandex. Oh well.
Question: With libero being a fairly new position in volleyball, when did you make the transition to the position?
Cushman: I played outside hitter in high school and travel ball. I was also the backup setter if a setter got injured – which seemed to happen every year. I made the transition in college when I was recruited as a defensive player. I was told I was too short to be looked at as a hitter, but I still like my position even if it doesn’t come with the same glory as a hitter gets.
Question: As the teams’ libero so far this season, how would you explain your role to someone who’s unfamiliar with volleyball?
Cushman: The libero wears a different colored jersey from everyone else on the team. This person is the team’s defensive leader or coordinator. They can go in for anyone in the back row. Basically, the libero is the main passer and defensive player.
Question: What do you like most about being the libero?
Cushman: You don’t get to crank the ball at your opponent, but if they hit the ball as hard as they can and you dig it up like a piece of cake, it is so frustrating for a hitter. It is one of my favorite feelings. People come to see the hitters; that is what fills the seats, but defense wins games.
Question: This weekend, you travel to Nebraska to play some nationally-ranked opponents. What are you expecting from that trip?
Cushman: I am so excited. This weekend is a chance for us to play with the very top teams in the country. It’s going to test our mental toughness, our ability to respond and it gives us the opportunity to prove ourselves and represent the ACC. We have the training. We have the talent. We just need to show it and compete. It’s going to be a great weekend for volleyball.