Marshall ball

While at the University of San Francisco, McKenna Marshall earned a spot on First Team All-WCC in her last season as a Don.

When Gonzaga University   volleyball player McKenna Marshall was in fifth grade, she had her eyes set on becoming a basketball player. Her mom continually encouraged her to play volleyball and attend just one practice, but Marshall was insistent on hitting the hardwood and playing hoops. 

But once Marshall went to her first practice, she would bump, set and spike herself to a successful career.

The 6-foot-1-inch junior outside hitter from San Diego, California, transferred from West Coast Conference (WCC) competitor, the University of San Francisco, this past year.

During her time in the City by the Bay, Marshall averaged 3.3 kills per set, adding 2.1 digs per set. In her final season with USF, Marshall totaled 281 kills, ranked second-most in the conference with her 4.07 per set average. 

Marshall also led her team in kills in 15 of the matches USF played in, six of them consisting of 20-plus kills, earning her a First Team All-WCC spot.

After her stellar last year at USF, Marshall transferred to GU, where she currently leads the team in kills with 236. During her process of transferring schools, staying on the West Coast wasn’t something that crossed her mind, as she was open to going anywhere. But after playing against GU multiple times, her love for the west coast grew.

“I've been here before when we were playing [GU] when I was at USF,” Marshall said. "I had a memory of my experience playing [GU], and then coming here, I realized that I was just kind of moving up the coast. I've always loved the West Coast, and I just feel like this is kind of my home. So it just kind of worked out.”

Marshall said transferring from one WCC school to another made it easier to transition to her new team. Being used to the conference and knowing the teams they’ve played before made it easier for Marshall to acclimate to her surroundings with her new teammates.

And with inner-conference transfers not being that common, head coach Diane Nelson said that with a quick turnaround to the start of this past season, having a new player from the same conference helped.

“She's done it before,” Nelson said.  “She's done it before at the level that her now Gonzaga teammates are doing it. And so that just allows us as coaches to let her figure some things out and focus on brand new or incoming freshmen, maybe our [junior college] transfers… so that really was helpful.” 

Marshall admitted that she had a little extra motivation when she got the chance to go up against her former team. Winning in three straight sets, Marshall said it was a weird experience doing scouting reports on her old roommates and teammates. But in the end, Marshall was excited to finish on top to get the victory. 

Marshall had nine kills in the win against her former school.

“That game, I had so much motivation,” Marshall said. “I've never wanted to win a volleyball game more than that match. You want to prove yourself and you want to show them that I chose the right place. It was definitely a very fun game. I had so much fun playing that match.”

Other than the motivation from playing against her old team, Marshall has an added sense of motivation through the obstacle that one of her family members is facing. 

Nathanial “Bailey” Marshall, cousin of the GU volleyball player, had liver issues that required care from the ICU. According to the GoFundMe page for Bailey, Bailey had a liver transplant in 2014 to treat primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease in the bile ducts that affects the transfer of liquid from one’s liver to their small intestine.

Then, while Bailey was in surgery on Aug. 3, his hepatic artery was severed, greatly affecting his liver due to the cutoff of blood flow and oxygen. This resulted in Bailey’s family being housed in Los Angeles for the next month, dependant on the ability to get a liver and Bailey’s recovery process. 

Bailey is on the waitlist for a new liver, and as of Aug. 29, he was released from the ICU while still being monitored on a daily basis. Since then, McKenna said he is back in the hospital. Over $12,000 has been raised so far on Bailey’s GoFundMe page.

“He's one of the main reasons why I am really motivated,” McKenna said. "I just hope that he gets that transplant as soon as possible because he deserves to start his life, you know, and he's in his twenties. It's just so unfair that he has to go through that. He's been sick his whole life. That's why it's just kind of hard to see him go through that.” 

With all that she has been through, Marshall’s leadership on the court has been prevalent in GU’s 2021 volleyball season. Nelson said her leadership style is unique to her, and in doing so, it has allowed for her to be her best self both on and off the court. 

Nelson wants to see her continue that leadership aspect in the final few games of the season, referencing McKenna’s plethora of respect for her teammates.

“She has high expectations for her[self],” Nelson said. “... She comes in with a high standard. She comes in with high achievement [in] prior years and a vision of what she wants to be able to contribute to the team. And so all those things make for daily work to be really, really intentional towards her goal.”

As the season comes to a close, McKenna continues to motivate not only herself, but her teammates and peers around her. Although she has only been here for one year, and with upcoming changes to the coaching staff after Nelson announced her resignation, McKenna said the future is still bright for GU volleyball.

“I think with my next year here, since I have a COVID year, we're kind of building a new foundation, and with a coach change and everything, it's going to be a little chaotic and new,” Marshall said. “I think for me, personally, I just hope that people remember our team for how hard we work on our grit. So when I leave, I hope that the foundation is still really, really strong for who we are as a program.”

Vincent Saglimbeni is the managing editor. Follow him on Twitter: @vinnysaglimbeni.