It’s as if two head coaches show up to the gym whenever Benjamin Russell volleyball plays a match.
Entering her fourth and final year as a varsity starter, JaNiya Martin — who is nicknamed “Jam” by her teammates — knows more about volleyball than most high school players are ever taught.
She knows all six positions in each of Benjamin Russell’s rotations. She’s been used as both an offensive weapon at outside hitter and a defensive specialist at libero in the Wildcats’ attack.
Benjamin Russell is striving to recapture its area championship this fall, and Martin is the jam that the team gels around.
“It’s kind of a running joke, we call her Coach Jam,” Benjamin Russsell head coach Magan Ford said. “She knows everybody’s position, she keeps people in place and she just has a knowledge of the game that heightens everybody’s game. They feed off of her.”
Martin meant everything to Benjamin Russell’s junior varsity team as a freshman.
Her play elevated the Wildcats’ B-team to such an extent that Ford was reluctant to move her up to varsity that year. But by the time postseason play rolled around, she cracked the rotation.
“She kind of was the glue that held JV together her ninth grade year, so I didn’t want to move her,” Ford said. “She did such a good job that we moved her up at the end of the year and she fell into a spot, and she ended up starting on the back row in regionals against Pelham.”
Martin’s been a key contributor for Benjamin Russell ever since.
The now-senior said volleyball is a sport that’s “in her blood,” her mother having been an accomplished multi-sport athlete in high school.
“People might not understand, it’s like, ‘Your momma did this, so you’ve gotta do this,’” Martin said. “It’s just like, I was born with this ability, so why not use it?”
She’s made the most of her heritage.
Last year Martin collected a team-high 27 service aces, and finished second on the squad in digs at 52 despite playing front line much of the year. As an attacker, her 46 kills ranked third amongst the Wildcats’ hitters.
Back at libero for 2021, her ability to contribute in a variety of phases makes her one of the most versatile options on Ford’s roster.
“Last year with COVID we had several girls quarantined, so her knowledge of the positions made it easy,” Ford said. “We changed rotations, I think, six times last year and we would have to move her from position to position. It wouldn’t take a day or two of practice for her to work there. She already knew it.”
That quick-change ability stems from a knowledge of all six positions, and she knows what each spot’s role is in any rotation thrown at her, Ford noted. Her teammates know who to look to if they’re unsure what to do on a play.
“She always knows the rotation,” junior Ryann Ruffin said. “If we’re ever confused on the rotation she puts everybody in their spot. She’s always nice. She’s always helpful. She never gives an attitude or anything.”
It’s not that Martin has an interest in coaching in the future. Despite her acumen for tactics, skills and teaching, she said her goal professionally is to become an OB-GYN.
Volleyball is just a game she’s able to pick up on rapidly.
“I’m a visual learner. That’s how I learn fast, is that I see things,” Martin said. “When I used to watch volleyball all the time, I’d be like, ‘You’ve gotta do this, you’ve gotta move here. You’ve gotta cover somebody. When you pass, your chest has gotta be down.’
“Every time I learn something, I learn every spot. So I learned how to put people in the right place.”
Her leadership style is more by example than vocal, according to Ruffin. She’s an understanding aid when working with teammates to improve a skill.
It’s another area where her experience playing multiple spots comes into play. Martin can demonstrate the technical components of not only digging, but attacking, serving and passing.
“I haven’t played volleyball that long. When I first started, she was really patient and helpful with me,” Ruffin said. “She helped me with my passing.”
Martin’s top goal for her senior year is to win an area championship, something the Wildcats fell short of in 2020. She’s joined by four other seniors in her quest.
She doesn’t plan to play volleyball in college, but if an opportunity arises at her school of choice, she said it’s something she’d consider.
For now, Martin has a final season to direct her team through. Ford is telling her not to think too much about the end of her career and simply do what she does.
“We’ve got her for one more year, we’re gonna use her all we can, every aspect of the game,” Ford said. “A lot of times I think athletes want it to be their farewell tour and they want to make senior year more than what it is. Just go out there and play. If you go out there and do what you’ve always done, you’re gonna be proud of the outcome.”