By DAVE LINK
Catholic’s Cassie Kuerschen made a bold move in early October.
The senior libero de-committed to play volleyball for Tennessee with hopes of other opportunities.
And that was all she had at the time. Hope. She didn’t know where she would land.
“I literally had no idea,” Kuerschen recalls. “It was during the time with terrible recruitment, COVID, I had no idea. I just kind of took a leap of faith and hoped for the best. Lots of praying, lots of hoping, and luckily and thankfully it turned out the way I’d hoped it would.”
When she got an offer from Penn State, she made a quick visit to the campus and committed Oct. 16.
It was a huge relief after the whirlwind created by her de-commitment from Tennessee.
“It was a very risky, I guess, situation,” said Kuerschen, the 5Star Preps Player of the Year for the second straight year. “With volleyball, the (college) coaches won’t talk to you until you de-commit, so I de-committed with nothing on the table at all.
“Right when I de-committed, I started talking to coaches and trying to make connections, and all my coaches were all on board. They helped me a ton, but then Penn State offered. It’s an amazing school and volleyball program, so we went up to visit the week it happened. It happened really, really fast. The whole process lasted probably a few weeks, max.”
Kuerschen committed to Tennessee before her sophomore season at Catholic.
“She just wanted to play at the most competitive level she could,” Catholic coach Brent Carter said. “Her going to Penn State is the equivalent of a football player going to Alabama or Clemson.”
Penn State of the Big Ten Conference finished the 2019 season with a 27-6 record and ranked No. 11 in the nation (RPI) by the NCAA. Tennessee (15-13) was 77th in the nation.
The Big Ten had four other teams ranked among the nation’s top 14 by NCAA RPI: Wisconsin (3), Minnesota (6), Nebraska (7), and Purdue (14).
“I’m so excited, and I’m excited to be introduced to a different culture, and not be 15 minutes away from home,” Kuerschen said. “Tennessee will for always be home, but at some point you have to branch out and be uncomfortable, because that’s how I got to where I am today is just always putting myself in uncomfortable situations, and my thought process was why stop now? And just keep on pushing myself.
“I’m excited to play at the highest level I possibly can because that’s been my goal since I started playing, and just be introduced to a different culture and a different society that isn’t in the South, and a different type of people. It’s going to be a complete change, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Kuerschen, the only senior on Catholic’s 2020 roster, completed a remarkable run this fall with the Lady Irish, who went 22-9 and finished third in the Division II-AA state tournament. She was recently selected as the female recipient of the prestigious Wendy’s Heisman High School Scholarship for the state of Tennessee.
Her previous three seasons ended with Catholic playing in state championship matches.
And Kuerschen tried to improve every season.
“She’s a died-in-the-wool competitor, and she’s her own toughest critic,” Carter said. “Every year she made it a point to have certain things that she was going to work on and get better at.”
Just like last week.
Kuerschen spent a few days in Muncie, Indiana, working with Mike Lingenfelter, owner and co-director of Munciana Volleyball.
Lingenfelter is the head coach of Munciana Samurai – which has won five national championships – and a friend of Penn State head coach Russ Rose.
“It’s one of the top clubs in the nation,” Kuerschen said by phone from Muncie. “He’s put a lot of players at Penn State, so the Penn State coach and (Lingenfelter) are very close, and I’m really close with his wife, so it’s been a good opportunity.
Kuerschen will continue training at K2 Volleyball until its club season starts after the Christmas break.
She will keep pushing herself to improve.
“A lot of the time it’s just about reps. The more reps you get, the better you get, and especially in volleyball,” Kuerschen said. “I know what I’m supposed to do for the most part and I know how to do it, but there’s always something that I can do a little bit better.
“So I’m just pushing my limits, things like going to Penn State, which is a completely different level of volleyball than Tennessee, and coming up here (to Muncie) where they train completely differently and train different techniques. And then getting into K2 where my coach there is just amazing (Jason Hames), so just getting a lot of different opinions and kind of exposing myself to being corrected and then working on what needs to be corrected.”
Kuerschen will see one or two familiar faces when Penn State starts its Big Ten Conference season in 2021.
Former Catholic standout Kamila Cieslik could be a fifth-year senior at Rutgers if she chooses, and former Webb standout Nicklin Hames will be a senior setter at Nebraska.
Kuerschen and Hames had a friendly social media exchange when Kuerschen committed to Penn State.
“On my commitment post, Nicklin commented, ‘Congrats, but go Big Red,’ ” Kuerschen said. “My comment was, ‘I’ll see you on the other side.’ We’ll be competing it out.”