TEMPE — When Marta Levinska first stepped foot in Arizona, her new world seemed supersized.
“Everything is just bigger,” Levinska said. “The arenas, the cars, everything is just more.”
Add the growing footprint of Arizona State women’s volleyball team to that list. The Sun Devils are 18-2 and riding a 14-match win streak. They have swept 12 of their 20 matches with one loss coming against Stanford, which is ranked third in the nation, and another at Oregon State last Friday.
One of, if not the biggest contributor to the Sun Devils’ success, is Levinska, a senior opposite hitter, who is having the best season of her collegiate career. Levinska is first on the team in kills per set (4.23), points per set (5.00), and serving aces (29), making her one of the best players in the country.
Levinska came from humble beginnings. She was born and raised in Latvia, a small Eastern European country off Russia’s western border. While in Latvia, Levinska represented her country in the Baltic League championship in 2018-2020, leading Latvia to its first gold medal in the 2019-20 season and, at just 18, was named the best player in the Baltic League.
Levinska took her talents to the United States the following year, committing to Arizona State to compete against better competition and for a change of scenery, but it wasn’t without culture shock for the then-freshman.
“Definitely getting used to people, people are different here,” Levinska said. “(Also) learning to adapt my own behaviors to how people perceive me here.”
Levinska was inspired by her older brother and aunt to pursue volleyball. Her aunt played professionally overseas and her brother was a talented volleyball player in his own right at his age. Levinska went to a volleyball camp at a young age, and from that point on she never looked back.
“I got in contact with this really good volleyball coach and went to my first practice,” Levinska said. “I actually wanted to quit a few months in but I went to this volleyball camp and fell in love with the girls and the sport.”
Levinska began her first year at ASU in 2020, when she was one of two Sun Devils to play every set that season and was named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team. That same season, she began a best friendship with then-sophomore Maddie McLaughlin, but McLaughlin didn’t have a great first impression of Levinska when the two first met.
“My first impression was like, ‘Wow we look like really different people and I don’t think we’re going to get along very well,’” McLaughlin said. “I went on a hike with her and we got to talking and we connected on a much deeper level than I originally thought.”
Levinska, 22, says that many people assume that she’s a “cold” person emotionally, but teammates and coaches figure out quickly that it’s not the case. McLaughlin mentioned that she has seen personal growth from Levinska, especially with how she has adapted to American culture during her years in Arizona.
“The starting of (your twenties, that’s) the time where you shape (into) who you’re going to be,” Levinska said. “The Marta you’ve met three years ago is not the same that you would meet today.”
JJ Van Niel, the ASU coach, pushed Levinska this season to be one of the team’s main leaders. Van Niel took over the helm last spring and focused on building relationships with each of his players and developing team camaraderie.
“When I got the job, we made it a point to invest in the players and the culture,” Van Niel said. “We’ve been really rock solid on that and we continue to make it a priority.”
When the Sun Devils aren’t in practice, Van Niel makes sure to talk about anything but volleyball, whether it’s playing cards in the clubhouse, team dinners or just hanging out off the court. So far it’s worked, as the team won 17 matches for the first time since 2019 to mark its best start since 2015 when ASU won its first 15 matches.
“When you do (play collegiate volleyball) for a while you get used to (the competition),” Levinska said. “We’ve just built this resilience that we’ve been able to help out younger teammates with.”
After college, Levinska plans to turn pro, most likely in Europe. When she eventually retires from volleyball she plans to get her master’s in psychology and become a sports psychologist.
For now, the focus is to keep winning matches and to be the best player she can possibly be in a world where everything is super-sized, including the Sun Devils’ dominance on the volleyball court.