It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It was Makenna Martin’s senior year. Between indoor volleyball and beach volleyball, she hadn’t been away from the sport for more than three weeks since she started college. Then came the injury that kept her out for the first 23 matches of the Arizona Wildcats’ season.
“They found that I had a fracture in my lower back,” Martin said. “And I also partially tore my labrum and my quad in my left leg. And so I’ve had [platelet-rich plasma] treatments in the past and that is what has helped me. So, my parents actually got that done for me. I went up to Phoenix the next day and had over 20 injections into the areas of PRP.”
It hasn’t kept her away from her teammates, though. The day after receiving the injections, Martin and her parents were on their way to San Diego to join the Wildcats as they faced then-No. 2 Nebraska and San Diego State.
Being part of things was important to Martin as she dealt with recovery. She also found that there were things she could still do while on the sidelines. They were just different than the responsibilities she’s had since taking over as primary libero during her sophomore season.
“I have learned a lot over the course of being out,” Martin said. “It’s not ideally what I wanted. It’s not really what any athlete wants. But at the end of the day, there’s still a responsibility for us and a role to fill, and I just tried my best to fill the role that I felt I was given. And it was a good learning experience. I was able to be supportive and positive for my teammates. And with that, just learning a lot from not actually being able to put on my jersey and wear the Block A, and go out there and do what I’ve been doing for my whole life.”
As Martin stood on the sidelines, more and more of her teammates joined her. Injuries piled up, especially among the bigs. After an early eight-match winning streak that included 21 straight winning sets, the team hit conference play and winning became difficult.
By the seventh Pac-12 match, the Wildcats had moved 5-foot-7 Kamaile Hiapo to outside hitter and gone to a strategy of serving short to enable themselves to get into points.
When Martin returned against Utah on Nov. 3, she initially played as a serving specialist. That was enough to make an immediate difference for the Wildcats.
“There’s a couple of those five-game matches right before Makenna was healthy that I think had we just had her serve for us, the outcome may have been different,” Arizona coach Dave Rubio said. “It’s just, there’s so many ways that she influences our team. Other than just a physical presence, her voice on the floor, and her competitiveness and her aptitude for the game is so good and helps us function better and more consistently. And so you don’t realize that’s the case until she goes back on the floor like, ‘Man, we’re just a better team, in general, because of her being on the floor’.”
Then came the road trip to Oregon and Oregon State, and Rubio’s comments about the importance of her serve were put into action. In the Oregon match, in particular, Martin’s aggressive serve enabled the Arizona offense to string together several runs that had eluded them in other matches.
“My mentality,” Martin answered when asked about the most important part of serving. “Just, ‘I’m going to get the passer. I’m going to win this battle.”’
Martin, who is two inches taller than Hiapo, also took over as a temporary outside hitter. It gave the team “a little more punch in the front row,” Rubio said. Hiapo was able to move back to libero, and Martin got her first chance to play the front row since high school.
“Oh my gosh, it’s great! I love it,” she said. “You can ask anybody that’s in practice. Sometimes when I get frustrated, I’ll hit a ball really far or kick it. And just being able to get up there and just hit the ball, it feels great. Dave told me before, ‘I know you’re gonna want to get up and hit the crap out of the ball, but just stay calm and if you have to place it, place it.’ And in my head I’m like, ‘Okay, Dave. Yeah, I’ll place it. I’m going to get up there and swing, Dave!’ That’s all I wanted to do. But there are some times I had to be smart and I did, but when I had the opportunity to swing, I did.”
Blocking has also been an issue for Arizona since the team lost so many of its bigs. Martin didn’t do a lot of that, but she did have her moments.
“Before the match, my mom told me, ‘Don’t get used. Whatever you do, don’t get used. Just channel it to your defense, follow the scouting report.’ And I got used,” Martin said. “And then right after, the next play, I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ And that’s when I got my block. I had to make up a little bit for it.”
After the road sweep, the Wildcats returned home for their final four matches, kicking off the homestand with a loss against No. 10 Washington on Friday. Martin hopes to play for the beach volleyball team this spring, but for most of her fellow seniors, the next three matches will likely be their final high-level volleyball matches.
Rubio has said that he thought if the team got 18 wins, they could make the tournament based on their strength of schedule. He reiterated that on Tuesday, but added that it would require them to sweep their final four matches against very good teams.
After Friday evening’s loss to the Huskies, those hopes were put to bed, but a winning record is still possible. Arizona will get to work on that goal when they face No. 22 Washington State Sunday at 12 p.m. MST. The match is available via Pac-12 Plus Live Stream. Fans can also follow along on Arizona Live Stats.