Favorite athlete: Andre Johnson
Favorite team: Philadelphia Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: Winning the district championship
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: My sophomore year I got into a varsity game against CB South, and when I went up for a hit, I completely whiffed and the ball hit me on the head.
Music on iPod: Mostly Rap and Hip-Hop
Future plans: I am going to Lehigh next year, and I plan on majoring in finance or economics.
Words to live by: ‘Don’t settle for anything you aren’t happy with.’
One goal before turning 30: Have a job and a house of my own.
One thing people don’t know about me: I work out at Crossfit Apex, and my cousin, who is one of the main trainers, was the winner of the 2009 Crossfit Games.
Derek Rush came out of nowhere to make an impact this year.
The Pennridge senior played for the jayvee last year, but when coach Dave Childs was looking for players to fill the gaps with the graduation of four all-league players from last season, Rush stepped to the fore, helping to lead the Rams to not only league and district titles but also a second place finish in the PIAA Class AAA State Tournament.
“It was one of our questions – you’re graduating all of these seniors and who is going to step up and replace them,” Childs said. “He was one of the guys who wasn’t really a contributor last year that stepped up and made a big impact this year.”
Rush not only was a dangerous weapon at outside hitter, he also brought important leadership qualities to the squad and was voted a captain along with Erik Moyer by his teammates.
“He played a lot in the offseason and being around the guys more, it just helps,” Childs said. “He earned their respect.”
Rush’s importance to the squad was underscored in the Rams’ District One AAAA title match against Souderton that saw the Indians win the first two games before the Rams rallied to eke out a 3-2 win to earn the district crown.
“We struggled even in the games we won, and Derek really bailed us out in a couple of spots,” Childs said. “Coming into the season, we knew what we had with Erik (Moyer), Kalin (Nelson) and Ryan (Chinnici), and it was up to the other guys to step up and fill the gaps and give us some productivity.
“When you can get 17 kills in the district final, that says a lot about Derek and also about the depth we had this season.”
Rush has always competed in sports. First it was soccer, and in seventh grade, he began playing AAU basketball. He got his first taste of volleyball in ninth grade when he went out for the squad at the encouragement of his parents.
“They suggested volleyball since I didn’t play anything in the spring,” he said. “I tried it, and I liked it. It was something to keep myself busy during the spring, and I ended up liking it.
“I had played gym class volleyball, but from that, I never expected it to be anything like high school volleyball is.”
“The team was a lot more relaxed,” Rush said. “Basketball was real strict, and everything was all about winning, no matter what, even on jayvee, but volleyball was a lot more laidback.
“On jayvee, you played to get better so you would have a strong varsity team.”
That’s been a formula for success under Childs, and Rush – like many successful players before him – worked his way through the ranks. As a freshman, he played middle hitter for the jayvee.
“It wasn’t that hard,” he said. “I just had problems with footwork. The hitting was never really that hard, but I never really could get topspin on the ball, so that was the biggest thing hitting-wise.”
As a sophomore, Rush was moved to the outside but found himself playing middle for the junior varsity as a junior. He opted to play club ball for the first time during the offseason this past year, playing for the Indian Valley Volleyball Club. This spring he earned the starting spot at outside hitter for his final high school season.
“He put in the time this year, and it really paid off for him,” Childs said. “He was huge for us all throughout the season. He hit a high percentage from the outside and didn’t have a lot of hitting errors.”
Rush pointed to Childs’ laidback coaching style as a key to the Rams’ success.
“It’s not that we don’t practice hard – we do,” he said. “Our coaches expect us to actually do well and play hard, but it’s not like he’s one of those coaches that will scream at you and call you out in front of the team for not playing well.
“It’s usually – if one person is not playing well, everybody else has to help pick that person up. It’s easier to play in that environment, and that’s what helps us to play well.”
The district title match against Souderton, according to Rush, was an example of the effectiveness of that style of coaching.
“No one was frantic,” he said. “When the coach isn’t screaming at you, you can actually think, and I think that’s what helps.
“When it’s a calmer environment, you’re not under as much pressure, and you can actually think and play and not worry about being taken out or yelled at.”
The Rams’ magical postseason run culminated when the team earned a spot in the state final against Chambersburg at Penn State University. In the fourth game, they led 23-22 with a 2-1 lead in games only to watch Chambersburg rally for the win. Chambersburg went on to win the fifth game to capture the state title.
“That was fun playing out there,” Rush said. “When I think of it, it’s mixed emotions just because we were two points away from winning. We were that close, but when you think about it, we got second in the state, which is still a really big accomplishment. I’m still happy with that.”
Rush also points to capturing a district title as a point of pride.
“I really wanted to win that one because our school doesn’t really win many things,” he said. “Last year, even though I was on the team, it doesn’t mean as much to win something if you’re not playing. Being a starter this year, it meant a lot more to win a district title.”
For Rush, deciding to join the volleyball team turned out to be a whole lot more than he could have anticipated when his parents suggested he try it as a spring sport.
“It made high school a lot more enjoyable,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things to do depending on your interests, but I was always really into sports, I’m really happy I started playing volleyball.
“It gave me something to do, and it gave me something to look forward to during the year. I was really excited for the season the whole year since it’s at the end of year. It makes the year go faster when you’re constantly doing something.”
Just as he excelled on the volleyball court, Rush also excelled in the classroom. He is a member of the National Honor Society and has taken several AP classes.
“My family stresses academics a lot, so I’ve always really held them high on my priority list,” he said.
This fall, Rush will enroll at Lehigh University where he will study business, possibly majoring in finance.