Standing at 6-foot 8-inches tall, McKenzie Jacobson is hard to miss on the volleyball court. But the redshirt senior’s presence is felt around the team for more than just her size.
“The quality of person she [Jacobson] is far exceeds the player she is,” head coach Dave Rubio said.
Jacobson got her start early in the volleyball world thanks to an older sibling.
“I started playing in second grade,” Jacobson said. “My sister is three years older than me, so when she was in fifth grade, I was like her practice partner at home, and then I was on my first team in the fourth grade.”
When it came to playing in college, Jacobson had a variety of choices including UC Davis, USC and San Francisco, but Arizona won her over in the end.
“I fell in love with the campus when I came here [Arizona],” Jacobson said. “The coaches are amazing. The academic center was the main reason why I liked it, with the opportunities for the athletes, it’s just really helpful, with an athlete’s schedule.”
It’s no surprise that the academic support for student athletes was one of the major reasons why she chose Arizona. Jacobson is studying nutritional sciences and is on the track to become a dietician.
While being a Wildcat Jacobson has been named a Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable mention every year. To be eligible for the honor a student-athlete must have a minimum 3.0 overall grade-point average and appear in at least 50 percent of their team’s games, according to the Pac-12.
“I think that we should come here [to college] to excel in our sport, and in the classroom, not just put all our eggs in one basket,” Jacobson said.
While excelling academically off the court, Jacobson has been just as impressive on it. Through Jacobson's colligate career, the middle blocker led the team in hitting percentage as a freshman and junior and finished second in hitting percentage her sophomore season. In each of the past two seasons, she has had exactly 204 kills, and last season she had 10 matches with five or more blocks, tied for the team lead.
Jacobson is now in her last season as a Wildcat, but the outcome hasn't been going the way she or Rubio expected. Coming off a season in which she played 129 sets, she has only been seen on the court for 29 sets in 20 matches.
“It’s been a disappointing year, for sure,” coach Rubio said. “You start for two and half, three years and then your senior year, not play very much, and feel disappointed. But if you knew McKenzie, she’s one of the greatest, down to earth, keeps things in perspective, positive, just a really great kid. That's one of the reasons why I recruited her, other than being 6’8” and having a really good arm.”
And that sentiment is shared around the team.
“Whether or not she’s the outspoken leader, she’s always there, working hard, and I think that’s always a reliable factor for everyone,” said sophomore setter Julia Patterson.
Jacobson has been thrusted into a leadership role, being the most tenured member of a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores. She credits the fact that she redshirted her freshman year as a reason she is able to be so helpful to her younger teammates.
“Another aspect why I think it was helpful that I redshirted is because a lot of the girls are kind of going through that struggle of the high school to college transition,” Jacobson said. “So I’m able to talk to some of the younger girls, and say, ‘Hey, it’s ok. It’s hard right now, and you might not understand it right now, but there is a greater purpose’.”
During games at McKale Center, you’ll often see Jacobson going through the line of teammates standing at the bench, performing handshakes, unique to each teammate. For most, remembering each handshake can be a tall order, but Jacobson says there’s nothing to it.
“As the years go by, you just kind of remember them,” Jacobson said.
You don’t often see Jacobson standing on the sidelines without a smile on her face, and says that joy that being on the court brings her is one of her favorite parts of playing volleyball at Arizona.
“Getting to be goofy and have those moments with the team is what makes it fun,” Jacobson said.
But for playing volleyball as a whole, she says that the competition of the sport is her favorite part.
Not playing as much as you are accustomed to, especially as a senior, is something that not all athletes handle very well. But Jacobson’s “whatever is best for the team” mindset is something that sets her apart, both as a player and a person.
“It’s been hard, but I’m learning a lot about myself, and just putting my pride aside,” Jacobson said. “I go hard every day in practice, and if Dave knows that playing other people is going to get the win for the team, then that’s what I’m here for, because it’s a team sport.”
Follow Noah Auclair on Twitter