‘Controlled chaos’ prepares Konovodoff for Marquette

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Controlled chaos. That’s how Andy Konovodoff described raising Marquette junior libero Martha Konovodoff and her six other athletic siblings.

The list of things Andy regularly filled his Chevrolet Suburban with included a cooler of snacks and drinks, baseball outfits for two kids and soccer outfits for four kids. Then, he was tasked with driving the children to and from soccer and baseball practices and also making it in time to attend someone else’s ballet recital.

Martha said routines like that and the ability to watch her two older sisters go through the recruiting process have shaped the player she is today with the No. 8 Marquette Golden Eagles.

Though Andy was a wrestler in college, he said his talent was nowhere near the ability of his children. He said his wife Mary Ann had brothers who were involved in baseball and hockey. Despite not being Division I athletes themselves, all of Mary Ann and Andy’s children received that athletic gene.

“Don’t really know where we all got this athletic type of thing,” Martha said. “So, we all just kind of got lucky.”

“I don’t consider either of my parents athletes,” Abby, the oldest daughter, said.

Yet four of the Konovodoffs have participated in collegiate athletics. The eldest, John, is now 30 with a wife and daughter, but he played Division III football at Illinois Wesleyan. Andrew, now 28, wrestled for Division III Elmhurst College. Their oldest daughter Abby, 25, was a setter at Division I Fordham University. Grace is 22, and she was a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletic setter at Robert Morris University.

Martha is the fifth child and part of the Golden Eagles’ stout defense. She was named to the BIG EAST All-Conference Second Team and was an AVCA All-American Honorable Mention honoree.

The two youngest, Sarah and Peter, are still in high school but have aspirations to play at the next level. Marquette is recruiting Sarah, 18, for volleyball even though the team already has a libero commit in Sarah’s class. Peter, 16, plays football and baseball.

For the Konovodoffs, the hierarchy is faith, family, academics and sports. Andy said the rule is “if you get good grades, you can play sports.”

Grace described the extremely tight-knit family as always having a “built-in friend.” All the children grew up going to each other’s football, baseball, wrestling and volleyball games or matches. The siblings have high expectations for each other, though.

“We’re our biggest critics, for sure,” Abby said. “That’s one of our attributes as a Konovodoff. At the end of the day it is nice to be part of a bigger team that’s not sports related or competitive, it’s your family. Knowing that those teammates have been there and they can help you through is always helpful.”

As soon as the Konovodoff children were old enough, they all signed up for some sport, whether it was soccer, ballet, football, baseball or volleyball.

“(Andy and I) always divided and conquered the work,” Mary Ann said. “Sometimes we went one direction with one kid and sometimes another direction with another. We always kind of made it work out. As far as I know, nobody missed a practice or a game.”

Abby was the first one to play club volleyball before Grace, Martha and Sarah followed suit.

“The word on the street was if you wanted to play on the team for Rosary (High School), you had to play club volleyball,” Abby said. “One of the moms at the school was like, ‘Oh, you have really big hands, you should be a setter. Go try out at Sports Performance (Volleyball Club).'”

Although Martha had an initial interest in soccer, she said when it came time to choose, she decided on volleyball because she “happened to be decent at volleyball.”

“People recognized our last name originally as I was going through the program,” Abby said. “They associated Martha and Grace and Sarah with me. As Martha came through the ranks and totally blew their socks off, we’re all associated with Martha now.”

Abby said it took about two years to realize how much club volleyball resembled a full-time job, but she “wanted to relieve some of the burden of finances” for her parents. She told her parents she was going to college for free, and that’s what she did. So did Martha.

“You put an investment up front because they play club or travel volleyball, but the payback is tremendous,” Andy said.

Abby said she would arrive for club volleyball at 3 p.m. and not leave until 8 or 9 p.m, competing in an uber-competitive environment. Grace and Abby said Martha, who was originally a setter, had no problems switching to libero.

“(Martha) completely caught up to the rest of the girls and surpassed them in their skill level, even though they had four more years of training on her,” Abby said. “Once we saw that switch flip, it was like, you’re going to kill it. You’re going either place first or second at every national tournament you play in. You’re going to be the starter on every team you join.”

The highly competitive environment was not exclusive to her club team. Martha and Grace played together in high school, which Grace described as “freaking awesome.”

“I was a setter, so I would yell at her to get her passes higher or she would yell at me to get my sets higher,” Grace said.

Though Martha has surpassed her sisters in volleyball, they are still her biggest fans and enjoy seeing her personality shine as a Golden Eagle.

“It’s really nice to see her laughing on the court or slapping her teammate on the back or messing around,” Abby said. “It’s really allowed her to continue to be in love with the sport. … It’s been nice to see her grow through that uncertainty at the beginning and develop into her own volleyball player instead of just a production of the volleyball club.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the impact of family on Martha Konovodoff’s volleyball career. Check back next Tuesday for Part Two.