(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
OGDEN, Utah – When Mykaela Hammer committed to play volleyball at the University of Montana, she was expecting to play under head coach Jerry Wagner, the man who had recruited her. She redshirted her first season in Missoula, and spent her next two seasons playing under coach Brian Doyon. The next two have been under Allison Lawrence.
Hammer, signed as an outside hitter, played both pin positions as a freshman before moving to middle blocker midway through her sophomore season, before switching again to the right side. She’s bounced around the court similar to bouncing from coach similar to her life, growing up in Pennsylvania before moving to Arizona. Her home away from home when she got to college was then Dallas, where he parents moved to, and now Ohio, where they currently reside.
There’s been plenty of transition and change surrounding Hammer over the past five years, but the one thing that has remained the same is the 6-1 player. In a world of transferring and jumping from school to school for the next big thing, Hammer stuck it out.
“We live in an age where instant gratification is paramount, but Mykaela was committed to herself, her program and her university for the long haul,” Lawrence said.
It hasn’t always been easy. During her first three years on the court, Hammer’s teams won a combined nine conference games. In addition to her three head coaches, she’s played for five assistants and has had 13 teammates quit or transfer out of the program. But it also makes it all the more rewarding now, as a redshirt senior, winning seven Big Sky matches during this season alone and advancing to the conference tournament for the first time as a player.
“Rather than slow down or run away when things got tough – and they got really tough – she dug her heels in and committed,” Lawrence said. “She worked on herself, her leadership, her physicality and her game. She didn’t run away. She ran toward the challenge.”
The persistence and dedication became even more rewarding on Tuesday, when Hammer was named to the All-Big Sky Conference first team, a 12-member team selected by the league’s head coaches.
“I feel lucky and grateful to receive this honor,” Hammer said. “Even after everything we went through, I never wanted to leave. It never crossed my mind, because this is where I wanted to be, and now it makes it even more special seeing where we’ve gotten to here at Montana.”
The first-team selection is partially a reflection to the program’s growth. After winning five overall matches in 2016, the year before Lawrence’s promotion to head coach, the Grizzlies won eight matches a year ago and are now in double figures, as they continue to work their way up the Big Sky ladder.
But it would be unfair to call Hammer’s selection simply a tribute to team success. Hammer’s numbers speak for themselves. Not only does she lead the Griz offense, but her 3.78 kills-per-set average ranks fifth in the entire conference.
She’s led the team for kills 18 times this season, including a career-high 23 in a come-from-behind win over Sacramento State, a team that enters this week’s conference tournament as a top-four seed. The six-rotation player does it all for the Griz, ranking second on the team for digs, second for blocks and fourth for service aces.
Hammer’s progression has been similar to the program’s. As a freshman in 2015, she played in 22 matches, earning five starts. She was on the floor for all but one set as a sophomore, starting 19 matches and leading the team for blocks and ranking fourth for kills. She took her game to the next level as a junior, leading the Griz for kills and service aces while also earning Academic All-Big Sky recognition for the first time.
“I think it’s always in an athlete’s mind as they go throughout their careers, but I never had a direct goal of, ‘I want to be first-team all-conference.’ I was speechless when I found out, and I couldn’t have done it without my team. The dedication and loyalty that we all have shown to this program has been really cool, and now we’re one step closer to our goal of taking this program to the next level.”
Hammer has seen a lot as a Grizzly, and she’s also now done a lot. She’s played in more than 100 career matches and recently surpassed 900 career kills. The senior will also graduate (with two degrees, mind you) with more than 600 career digs, 200 blocks and 50 service aces. Just seven other players in the history of the program have reached each of those milestones, and just one other during the 21st century.
Earlier this year she was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week, and now she can add All-Big Sky first team to her resume. In 31 years in the Big Sky, Hammer is just the 14th Grizzly to earn first-team honors, and the first player to earn any all-conference recognition since Hannah Sackett in 2015.
“First-team honors are not only an acknowledgement of her physical performances, they are a nod from the conference for the person that she is, the leader that she is, and all she represents when she puts on her Montana jersey,” Lawrence said. “I feel incredibly honored to have been beside her through her journey, to have joined in her fight for this place.”