Native Kiwi Olivia Macdonald brings diversity and energy to Arizona beach program

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Logan Cook | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's Olivia Macdonald jumps to block the ball during the UA-Cal beach volleyball game on Saturday, April 22, 2017

Senior blocker Olivia Macdonald has made quite the impact on Arizona beach volleyball during her past three years on the team. As a freshman, Macdonald and current assistant coach Emily Kiser started in the sixth seed and posted a 13-1 record.

That year, they recorded impressive wins against ASU, TCU and Cal Poly. The following year, Macdonald and her ex-partner and transfer Sam Manley posted a 16-8 record and got impressive wins against New Mexico, ASU and LMU. In addition, she received honorable mention on the Pac-12 All-Academic Team. 

As a junior, she and her partner in crime, Olivia Hallaran, started in the second seed, where they went 15-13 as a pair, defeating teams such as ASU, Utah, Stanford and Cal. This season, she plays with current sophomore Natalie Anselmo. So far, they have gone 14-6 as a pair, helping to contribute to the team’s overall 12-8 record. Macdonald and Anselmo have had crucial wins against strong programs, such as Washington, LMU and San Jose State.

With statistics like these, you might think beach volleyball was Macdonald’s passion for her entire life. However, as a native Kiwi, Macdonald played a variety of sports before moving to Arizona to commit her complete time and energy to beach volleyball.

Macdonald was born and raised in Piopio, New Zealand, a town known for its large farm animal population, as it has more sheep than people. As a natural athlete, she attended New Plymouth Girls’ High School, where she participated in basketball, volleyball, cricket, field hockey and a native sport called netball.

“It’s a big sport in New Zealand, and I was convinced I was going to keep playing it forever,” Macdonald said.

In high school, Macdonald also competed on the New Zealand Under-17 Indoor Volleyball Team. After a daunting experience in China while competing against the impressive women’s Chinese and Japanese teams, Macdonald knew her indoor volleyball career was not going to last.

At this point in her life, she was a little confused as to what she wanted to do in the near future. She had already graduated from high school and was passing time by working at a bar in New Zealand.

“I wasn’t sure where I was going to go,” Macdonald recalled.

But much to her gratitude, head coach Steve Walker became very interested in Macdonald after her performance in a tournament in Huntington Beach, California. Much to Walker’s confusion, Macdonald’s UCLA shirt made him believe she had already verbally committed to play Bruin beach volleyball. However, due to Walker’s continued efforts, Macdonald was able to commit to a newly founded Arizona beach volleyball program.

Not only was Macdonald joining a new program, but she was moving halfway across the world to a small town in Southern Arizona to play a sport she had only been playing for a couple of years. 

Despite being so far from New Zealand, her teammates and friends make her feel right at home.

“[They] have become my family, and earlier on in my career, they helped me acclimate to the university,” Macdonald said.

Even though she dominates life on the sand, Macdonald has a love-hate relationship with her life as a college athlete.

“You are under contract but not a professional athlete yet,” Macdonald said. “It’s tough.”

Being a college athlete is never easy, as it entails long hours of practices, games and classes without the promise of a paycheck.

As she is halfway through her senior season, Macdonald said the hardest part of being a collegiate athlete is finding the time for everything. Between practices, games, classes and homework, she hardly has any time for anything else.

After finishing up her career in Tucson, Macdonald is headed to Italy to compete in a pro circuit. She will travel along the Italian coast and compete in a series of beach volleyball matches with the hopes of competing in the Olympics one day.


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