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MJ Hammill celebrates with teammates
September 19, 2023

Hammill sets high standard on the court, in the classroom

Written By: Tom Ziemer



On the volleyball court, MJ Hammill is content to cede the spotlight while keeping the University of Wisconsin’s powerhouse offense humming along.

As one of two starting setters for the perennial national title contenders, Hammill is a facilitator who delivers sets to the Badgers’ talented crew of outside hitters and middle blockers to hammer down.

“That’s really my goal: just be as good as I can to get us to where we need to be at the end,” she says.

MJ Hammill

Off the court, Hammill throws her competitive drive into her studies as a biomedical engineering major—and the two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree is the first to admit it requires a similar degree of hard work. The senior, who comes from a STEM-inclined family, got an early taste of the hands-on engineering that’s central to the BME program as a high school student in Greenwood, Indiana, when she participated in Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow competition.

“I kind of fell in love with the process of engineering,” says Hammill, who’s long held an interest in pursuing a medical career. “And so BME just happened to be a perfect intersection of pre-med and engineering and gave me the most possibilities for my future.”

Hammill, whose first name is, appropriately, Madison, plans to attend graduate school to become a nurse practitioner after graduating in May 2024. Before that, though, she and the top-ranked Badgers are aiming for a second national title in three years.

Hammill took a break from preparing for the start of Big Ten Conference play with the undefeated Badgers (9-0) to talk about her student-athlete grind, finding a supportive community in BME, and more.

What do you enjoy about engineering?
“I really love the problem-solving aspect. You’re given a problem, and you get to collaborate and work in a team environment to choose whatever avenue of how you’re going to solve it. And the effects of your solution can reach and help so many people. I love every aspect of that.”

How do you balance the demands of being a high-level college athlete with studying a rigorous major?
“It’s really hard, and there were a lot of times where I was doubtful that I could do it. But then I always came back to the idea of, ‘What else would I love to do?’ And there’s just nothing else. I think because I love the subject so much and I love the sport so much, it’s so much easier to balance. I am thankful BME is a department where you really get to know your classmates, because you’re going through such rigorous courses that you kind of bond through that. I really have loved each of my design teams and have found friends who are willing to help me in lectures, or if I miss a class, they can send me their notes. Another way is being supported in the athletics world. I have a great academic advisor here. My coaches, they’re willing to work practice schedules and just do a great job of allowing us to be a full and complete person.”

How do you deal with pressure, whether it’s on the court or in your school work?
“Preparation. I would never say I’m the most athletic in this gym. I’m definitely not the smartest in any of my classes. But I can just work really, really hard. And I think that’s gotten me to where I am now and will continue to help me along in whatever I want to achieve. I think that’s been a big part of why I’ve been able to be here and succeed in what I do.”

MJ Hammill sets the ball against Arkansas

What skills do you think translate from BME to volleyball?
“Being a setter, I would say I really have to look at the game in a little bit more analytical way. So I’m not only problem-solving what the other team’s trying to do, but I’m also working directly with people. If there’s an issue or we’re not solving something on the court, I’m thinking of ways that maybe we can tackle it outside of practice. Or what can we work on specifically?

“I also think it goes the other way. I know what it’s like to spend long hours just trying to perfect one thing in the gym, and I know what it’s like to be dedicated every single day. And I think that’s what it takes to be in a rigorous major like BME. You have to commit yourself every single day to each class.”

What are your aspirations for the season on both a team and individual level?
“On a team level, we want to be the last team standing at the end of December. It’s always the goal to win the national championship, win the Big Ten. I think the goal is always to never lose a match. Individual goals, I’m OK being the one whose name doesn’t necessarily get out there.”

All photos courtesy of UW Athletics