NCAA beach countdown: No. 7 Hawai’i has new face to the program: Morgan Martin

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Hawai'i's Morgan Martin is primed to have a big senior year for the SandBows/UH photo

For so long, the reference point has been Katie Spieler. She was the one Jeff Hall pointed to as the example of what it is to be a Hawai’i SandBow, and with good reason. In four years, Spieler won a program-record 102 matches, was named an All-American and along with Emily Maglio formed the Big West Conference Pair of the Year in 2016. She twice earned the Jennifer Matsuda Award for highest student-athlete GPA. And without taking her graduate season, Spieler still earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Hall, the head coach of Hawai’i’s beach volleyball team, isn’t replacing Spieler as the face of the Hawai’i program. But he does have the latest model of what it means to be a Hawai’i SandBow: Morgan Martin, a 6-foot-1 senior from Mission Viejo, California.

“We refer to (Spieler) quite often about her level of commitment and what it takes,” Hall said. “But Morgan is now that face. It’s such an incredible luxury to have someone with that experience and someone who’s that driven.”

Here Hall would like to paint you a picture.

It’s the fall of 2018. Martin is coming off of surgery. She’s unable to practice. And yet she is anyway, in her own kind of way. She can’t participate in the real drills, so there she is, on the sidelines, mimicking every move her teammates make, even if there’s no ball, no competition, just herself and the sand and the drive to improve in some way, any way.

“This was not one time or a couple days,” Hall said. “She did it every single day in the fall for five and a half weeks. It’s another example of why she’s so great.”

He’ll give you plenty of examples, too. And Martin has plenty of examples of her own that display why she’s the current face of one of the perennial powers in college beach volleyball.

In three years, she’s amassed 86 wins, third all-time at Manoa. Martin, whose summertime beach teammates have included Kelly Reeves and Kathryn Plummer, made her first AVP main draw when she was still in high school, and this past summer, she made two, racking up wins over AVP semifinalists and finalists and former collegiate national champions en route to taking ninth at the Manhattan Beach Open.

All that, and Martin isn’t one to care where she plays or with whom she competes. In 2019, Hall moved her up and down the flights, No. 1 through 3, and she still set a school record by winning 40 consecutive sets with Pani Napoleon.

“She has this veteran savvy when she plays,” Hall said. “Her focus to be great is better than any athlete ever over the past 20 years. We’re merely a stepping stone for her career and it’s going to be a successful one. Her game is amazing, her volleyball IQ is high, her ability to read the game is beyond anything. Nobody ever wants to give her the ball or an opportunity to score.”

There are two others in similar positions to Martin, both in clout and ability: 6-1 Amy Ozee, a senior from Haiku, Hawai’i, and 6-1 Julia Scoles, a senior from Moresville, North Carolina, who is in her second second after transferring from the University of North Carolina.

Ozee’s breakthrough came a year ago. After competing No. 4 and No. 5 as a freshman and sophomore, Ozee played 33 of 36 matches No. 1 in 2019, finishing 25-11.

“(Morgan and Amy) came in together, and quite frankly have been the rock of our program as far as what it takes to be great,” Hall said. “I’ve never been around two athletes in my 20 years of coaching that have put in as much extra time as those two do. It drives the bus for us. It starts with those two. Who knows who they’ll play with and where they’ll be.”

And who knows where Scoles will land. Scoles established herself as a No. 1 talent with a bombing jump serve and a physicality not often seen at the college level. In her first season at Hawai’i, Scoles rotated between No. 2 and No. 3 with now new assistant coach Ari Homayun, finishing 29-6, earning a league-high three Big West Pair of the Week honors.

“She is one of the best athletes in the NCAA field,” Hall said. “I’d put her as the top attacker in the NCAAs and probably in the top five of the AVP if she were to play right now and just getting better and better.”

Hall readily acknowledges that his team goes as far as his seniors will take them. Then again, that’s a comforting concept when your seniors are Morgan Martin, Amy Ozee, and Julia Scoles, backed by returning starters Kylin Loker (a 6-foot sophomore from Carlsbad, California), Napoleon (a 5-7 sophomore from Bonita, California) and Sofia Russo (a 6-foot sophomore from Cherry Hill, New Jersey).

And while Hall is confident in his seniors, he is thrilled about incoming freshmen Ilihia Huddleston (Oceanside, California), Maia Hannemann (Jensen Beach, Florida), and Anna Maidment (Winnipeg, Canada), as well as transfers Harlee Kekauoha (UC Irvine), Brooke Van Sickle (Oregon) and Jolie Rasmussen (Oregon).

Van Sickle, from Battle Ground, Washington, is extremely athletic and at just 5-9 was an extremely effective outside hitter when pressed into that position during her two years playing indoors at Oregon, where she played one season on the beach. She played indoors for Hawai’i this past season. So did the oft-injured, 6-2 Rasmussen, from Encinitas, California, who has yet to play college beach volleyball, but has shown she’s an indoors star when healthy. Kekauoha is another 6-footer and the product of Long Beach played four years indoors for the Anteaters.

“I probably have three No. 1 players, maybe even four. It’s a hard nut to crack as far as who gets that opportunity, and what we’ll end up doing is it’ll be based on competition amongst each other. We’ll let them compete,” Hall said.

“I’ve never started and finished a season the same way and I don’t expect that to happen this year either.”

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