It’s just after 6 a.m. on June 23, and Nicolette Martin leans into her seat at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, a massive cup of coffee in hand, exhausted from both an early morning travel-day wake up and seven matches in the past three days at AVP Seattle.

Her voice is gone, as it should be, for it was hardly 12 hours ago that she was battling in a white-knuckler of a three-set quarterfinal match against Amanda Dowdy and Irene Hester-Pollock. Up 13-12 in the third set, Martin and Allie Wheeler couldn’t hang on, their legs finally giving way to 18, seven of which came during Thursday’s qualifier.

She doesn’t mind the qualifiers. They’re good to build a rhythm and get live reps before the main draw, but it would be nice, she admits, not to have those extra three matches, to not be so worn down by the quarterfinals.

Seattle marked the second time in as many tournaments that Martin made the quarterfinals after coming out of the qualifier. She did the same in Austin with Sarah Day, succumbing in the quarters to Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook.

An hour prior to the quarterfinal match, Spieler couldn’t believe that Martin and Day had already begun warming up. Hadn’t they already played 15 sets that weekend? In heat that had regularly eclipsed triple-digits?

How were they still going?

Just Nicolette being Nicolette.

To catch Martin in the airport is to catch her on the strangest of days: A day off. No volleyball. No reps. No working out. Just coffee and naps.

“I don’t know where that came from,” she said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter of her nonstop motor. “Just being at [USC], they really pushed us. We were training six days a week and Sunday was our rest day. It was an hour lifting then a three-hour practice. Doing that for four years, it’s like ‘Ok, we won three national championships. Something about that worked, so I need to keep going, I can’t stop.’”

It is that type of work ethic -– or play ethic, really –- that has enabled Martin to steadily climb the ranks of the AVP, from making one of three main draws in 2016, to six of seven in 2017 with a best finish of seventh, to two for two in 2018 with consecutive fifths.

“We started in Huntington and did awful,” Martin said, laughing. “We got a wild card into the main draw and went 0-2. The two games we played went to three and we lost both of those, so I think we used that as our fuel for our fire for Austin, so we went into Austin and yeah, we took a fifth.

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“I think behind all of that, we’ve been working with our coach and we’ve been super open with each other and talking about our goals and how we’re feeling. We would just talk about things, where we’re at with our bodies, what we can give each other today, learning to talk to my partner more and being super open and honest and really trusting your partner and knowing they’re going to give 100 percent made me more free with my volleyball.”

And free, it seems, no matter who she’s playing with, whether it be Sarah Day, with whom she took a fifth in Austin, or Allie Wheeler, her former teammate at USC with whom she took a fifth in Seattle.

It would be difficult to miss the joy with which Martin plays. She’s constantly talking, cheering, yelling, smiling, laughing – something is coming out of her mouth. Sometimes it’s a joke, as it was when she found herself down 11-9 in the third set of the second round of the qualifier.

Sometimes she’ll ask her partner what she wants for dinner, “just to put your mind somewhere else for a second,” Martin said. “Like, ‘OK, relax.’”

Whatever works.

At the moment, that seems to be mostly everything for Martin, who won three national championships at USC, a handful of AVP Nexts and CBVAs, and has already been just one win away from making Sunday twice this season alone.

“Something in my heart still tells me Monday through Friday, every day of the week,” Martin said. “Gotta go.”

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