When you go out for an elite high school volleyball program in one of the nation’s most competitive regions, you’d better have some experience under your belt.
So when Cardiff resident Hannah Martin showed up for tryouts at Canyon Crest Academy last fall with less than a year of competitive experience, to say that she didn’t quite fit the San Diego County high school volleyball player mold would be an understatement.
But whatever Hannah lacked in experience, she more than made up for with her raw athleticism, energy and enthusiasm.
Those qualities quickly got the attention of CCA’s coaching staff. And with that, a spot on the varsity to start the season, which by her own admission was a surprise.
Hannah went on to emerge as an impact player on a program that competes with some of the top programs in the state in the San Diego Section’s elite Open Division.
The 5-foot-11 athlete plays right side/outside. She tallied 101 kills, 13 blocks, six aces and 28 digs in her first year on the varsity.
Her transformation virtually overnight from volleyball novice to impact player at one of the region’s top programs at such a young age is without precedent in recent memory, according to Ravens coach Ariel Haas.
“Very unusual,” Haas said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had one with that little experience competing at this high a level of a team at that age. Usually, they’d maybe be the last one on the bench, maybe just gaining experience against other competition, but she contributed.
“In today’s volleyball, where everyone comes in with a lot of experience, it’s very, very rare.”
Hannah was still in middle school, attending Santa Fe Christian, when she joined the club circuit. She’d been playing club basketball before that, following the footsteps of her parents, Drew and Elaine, who played Division I ball at Cornell. Drew Martin went on to play professionally in Ireland.
But she never developed a passion for basketball, and burned out from the pressures of the club game before she even started high school.
An avid surfer, Hannah got her first exposure to volleyball playing pickup games on Moonlight Beach.
“I just took more of an interest in volleyball because I kind of got burned out in basketball a little bit,” she said. “It was hard to learn at first, but easy to improve at.
“There was always something new the coaches could throw at you.”
Hannah seems to have handled just about everything they’ve thrown at her just fine.
She made an immediate impact in her first varsity game, which by coincidence was against SFC and on the campus from which she’d recently transferred to CCA.
She was among the team’s leaders with eight kills in a 25-13, 23-25, 25-23, 25-16 victory over the Eagles. She got to play against her sister, Jacqui Martin, an SFC senior in that game.
Hannah finished the season strong, recording 10 or more kills in three of the Ravens four playoff matches, including a season-high 13 kills in a 13-25, 25-18, 25-14, 25-20 playoff victory over Elsinore.
Haas attributes Hannah’s easy transition to volleyball in large part to an athletic background, noting a powerful swing in particular that he believes she developed from paddling a surfboard.
“She’s got a strong block, she’s athletic and she’s just a big body out there,” Haas said. “She’s not like some skinny little tiny volleyball player. She’s big and she’s strong.”
Her physical presence complements good court awareness, balance, and nearly boundless energy.
Haas projects a high ceiling for Hannah, providing she continues to put in the work outside the high school season.
He believes she still needs to develop a better understanding of the fundamentals of the game and what her teammates expect of her.
She also needs to experience some failure.
“She wasn’t experienced with dealing with adversity,” Haas said. “There were times where she struggled, obviously, for a newer player, and she had to learn how to deal with the highs and lows of playing really well and playing really poorly or not playing at all, and the pressures that come with that type of elite level volleyball.
“We were, and are, very good.”
Hannah Martin is the first to admit she has a lot to learn about volleyball.
She said her parents have encouraged her to pursue her goal of playing at the collegiate level, with the understanding that the scholarship itself isn’t the ultimate goal.
And to hear her tell it, she’s fully invested in her new endeavor.
“With volleyball, I definitely have a new passion for it,” she said. “I want to go to practice. I love going to practice, and just the feeling of knowing that you can get better and there’s always something else you can do.”