The Montclair State University women’s volleyball team fluctuated on the scoreboard this season, but the one thing that remained the same was Red Hawk Natalia Majkut’s stellar defensive performance. With the star-player’s unique Polish background and tough academic schedule, the junior proved to be a distinctive multidimensional athlete for volleyball.
Standing at 6’1″ with the longest hair on the team, Majkut is hard to miss off the court. On the court, she stood out with her impressive overall record of 288 points and 238 kills, the highest on the team this season. With 112 sets played, she averaged out at 2.57 points per set.
However, there’s much more to Majkut than just her notable stats. She’s a child of two Polish immigrants, with most of her family still living back in Poland. Her individualistic fluency in the Polish language brought a cultural twist to the team.
“When I’m on the court and yelling, sometimes people think I’m speaking Polish because when I talk fast, it comes out more,” Majkut said. “We joked I should call out players and plays on the other side in Polish as a distraction.”
Majkut attributed her dedication to the game due in part to her family’s hard work. She hustled this season to pay tribute to her parents’ diligence.
“There are reasons to why I play the way I do,” Majkut said. “My parents immigrated here, and they work hard so I have the ability to do something I love.”
Majkut has only been playing varsity volleyball for three years, but her talent would suggest otherwise. She pointed out that a big part of her success on the court was because of her team’s chemistry at matches. Despite having a young team this year, Majkut believed everyone helped build each other up.
“It’s competitive,” Majkut said, “but it’s competitive so that you’re always pushing someone to be the best player that they can be.”
A crucial part of their team wasn’t always just the players on the court. Players on the bench brought a specific kind of energy that amped up the people behind the net.
“The bench is equally as important, sometimes even more important, because of the energy that they bring to the game,” Majkut said. “We’re all there to push each other to play better. Without the bench, without people cheering, without the right kind of energy, you can lose every game.”
A well-balanced team was really the success to the women’s volleyball team. Though they had good chemistry on the court or from the bench, they had to learn how to adjust to the new team dynamic after losing many senior players from the year before.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” Majkut said. “We’re a very young team [because] we graduated a lot of seniors last year, so we lost a lot of big presences on the court. It was difficult for us to kind of find an identity moving in for this season.”
Majkut emphasized how despite having a “high-low” team, they were still able to grow and prove their strength. By taking it one game at a time and following through with game plans, they managed to pull out big wins.
“We learned a lot,” Majkut said. “The wins were huge. We beat the number one team in our region, Vassar College, in three sets. That’s pretty hard to do, so we showed that we could beat some of the best.”
Because Montclair State is a Division III school, the volleyball players don’t get paid or receive gear from the school. Everyone on the team paid out of pocket for their equipment and sacrificed study time in order to play for free. All of the players participated on the team solely because they enjoyed volleyball and genuinely wanted to play.
“I play volleyball because I love it,” Majkut said. “None of us that are playing are being paid or have any scholarships [for volleyball]. You’re there because you want to be there; no one’s forcing you to be there. It’s never felt like a job for me. It’s something I willingly give up my time [for].”
Majkut’s dedication to the game is seen through the two all-tournament awards and the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Defensive Player of the Week honors she’s received. She was named to the All-Tournament Teams in both Gallaudet and Rochester and was recognized by NJAC for her outstanding defensive performance for the week of Oct. 16, 2017.
Despite these notable rewards, Majkut stressed how she simply just loves the game.
“I appreciate the recognition, but ultimately, I’m not playing for a medal,” Majkut said. “The medals are great, but they don’t really emphasize who I am as a player. I play for my team, and I play the game because I love it.”
However, balancing a sport and college work isn’t easy. With a tough major like molecular biology and a minor in chemistry, Majkut had a lot on her plate this season.
“Personally for me, balancing my hectic schedule with my classes and making sure I was dedicating all the time that I had to school and volleyball equally made the season very difficult,” Majkut said.
Majkut has been a Red Hawks volleyball player for her whole college career. Yet, her favorite volleyball memory is beating Stockton University in last year’s semi-finals, the “craziest” and “best” game the team has ever played.
“It was amazing seeing everyone cheering,” Majkut said. “We ran into a huddle in the middle of the court. Everybody was hugging, everybody was crying. It really felt like we won the championship that day even though we had to get on a bus and go to another game for the finals.”
Majkut will hang up her uniform for good next year. Though she plans to graduate in January of 2019, her love for the game and especially for her team will never crumble.
“Even when I’m not here, I’m going to be cheering them on,” Majkut said. “I want everybody to just have fun and succeed.”
The volleyball season came to a close with their unfortunate loss against Kean University on Nov. 2. Majkut and her teammate Lily Scanzillo ended the season being chosen for the All-NJAC honorable mention while Jillian Wilson was selected for the NJAC All-Conference second team.