For the average athlete, competing against players twice their size and age is an inherent disadvantage, but such was the norm for junior outside hitter Marisa Bubica when she first took up volleyball.
Bubica was first exposed to the sport at the age of eight, when she would come watch her older sister Alexis’s games in middle school. Finding the sport to be more appealing than soccer, Bubica quickly switched over to soccer.
Situated in the small town of San Pedro, the club only featured two age groups — 14’s and 16’s. Since the club did not feature any younger age groups, Bubica was forced to compete in the youngest division available against girls who were nearly twice her age.
“[It was] so intimidating! All the girls were older and taller and grew into their bodies, and I was just a child playing,” recalled Bubica. “But it was good to have that push because I always wanted to be better every day because I didn’t want to embarrass myself as an eight or nine year old.”
Bubica played at the club for two more years, gradually acquiring a better grasp of the game before eventually coming to play at Mizuno Long Beach with her sister after turning 11. Fortunately, the club featured a division for 12-year-olds, allowing Bubica to compete against girls within her own age group for the first time.
Bubica honed her skills at Mizuno Long Beach for the next six years, eventually making the one’s team at the club. Additionally, she also enjoyed a three year stint as a letter winner on her high school team, winning three league championships and lead the team in kills from 2008-2010. At the advice of her head coach Joy McKienze-Fuerbringer at Mizuno, Bubica did not play high school volleyball her senior year, in order to focus on her training with the club and improve her prospects of being recruited.
“It’s more stressful and competitive cause now you’re paying for it, and these are girls that you don’t go to school with them but you have to beat them out to play and if you want to play for college, that’s the only way you’re [going to] be seen,” said Bubica on the difference between high school and club volleyball.
Her decision paid dividends, as Bubica was named a Prepvolleyball.com Top 50 recruit for the class of 2011 and fielded recruitment offers from Loyola Maramount University, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, San Diego State, CSU Fullerton and UC Irvine. Having gone to every school that her older sister Alexis did throughout her life and subsequently being labeled her little sister, Marisa was adverse to the idea of being an anteater.
However, in coming to watch her sister play and show her support, Marisa came to familiarize herself with the campus and unwittingly fell in love with UC Irvine before she knew it.
“I had been looking into any other university and then obviously I would come support her games and [try] to make myself not like Irvine, but I loved the school, the campus, knew the academics were there, knew the coaches and I really really liked Irvine to start with.” When the recruitment process started, Marisa tried to turn away from Irvine, but found herself reaching out to head Coach Paula Weishoff in spite of herself.
“They started recruiting me and then they offered me a scholarship, and I was like, ‘I do actually really want to go to Irvine,’” Bubica said.
Coming into her freshman year at UC Irvine, Bubica held high hopes for the next four years of her undergraduate career, but simultaneously harbored the fear that she wouldn’t be able to live up the expectation she had for herself.
These fears were alleviated when she was made a starter as a freshman, but soon after, Bubica was afflicted with a stress fracture stemming from an exacerbated shin splint during preseason.
Bubica had the option of attempting to practice with the injury and risk losing a year of eligibility if her injuries persisted, or utilize a medical redshirt to preserve her eligibility for another year. She opted for the latter.
“I came into my college career, I saw this like being an awesome four years and now I’m injured. Do I want to play an extra fifth year? … I came to the conclusion this season was — I wasted it pretty much and I want to get the most out of this as possible,” Bubica said.
It was a challenging experience for Bubica, as she was still required to attend team practices while rehabbing, frustrated that she could not join. She soon healed enough to come back during winter quarter, but came to sprain her ankle on the same foot with the stress fracture. Disheartened but not discouraged, Bubica returned to rehab with the desire to come back stronger than ever for her sophomore year.
In the fall of 2012 Bubica returned to the court, and went on to be the first UCI freshman to be recognized as a part of the All Big West freshman team since 2009 after totaling 341 kills and 3.13 kill average on the team. However, Bubica refused to rest on her laurels, and took issue with the fact that she was unable to finish the last two games of the season due to her injury resurging.
“It was definitely a surprise to have been selected, I was really happy for it, but I was like hungry for more. I wanted to just keep getting better.”
Bubica’s desire to constantly grow as a player was evident in 2013, where she earned two all-tournament team honors and was the sole anteater to be named Big West Player of the Week.
Currently, Bubica is arguably playing some of her best career volleyball. After earning honors as the winner of the Golden Grizzlies Invitational, her second Big West Player of the Week honors and setting her own personal career best of 25 kills.
In the week of Oct. 10-11, Bubica led the Anteaters to a 4-0 record, recording a career-high 25 skills to pass her personal best for the second time this year. She holds a national ranking of 34th in terms of kill average (4.19) and is 40th with 222 kills on the year.
When asked about the reason behind her exceptional performances, Bubica credited her teammates for challenging her throughout each practice and citing their collective desire to improve.
“I wouldn’t be able to play this way in a match if I wasn’t like having our liberos or people blocking me and digging me every single day to like figure out how to become a better athlete,” Bubica said. “We’re just constantly pushing each other to be better, this is more an attribution to them I think.”
Considering that a good portion of volleyball is still to be played in the season, Bubica’s best may still be yet to come. Following graduation next year, Bubica has plans to play professional overseas and pursue a job in writing when he volleyball career ends.
With the drive and discipline she has acquired from volleyball, look for Bubica to make an impact no matter where the future takes her.
“Volleyball’s taught me to lose and figure out how to win in all aspects. It has taught me to come back from an injury and be driven to be better and it also taught me to take and give support from teammates,” Bubica said. “It’s important to be disciplined in all aspects and I don’t think I would have gotten this far academically without athletics.”