MERRILLVILLE | To warm up for a game, most athletes crank tunes on their iPods and bury themselves in headsets.
Marija Nicksic prefers to read Dostoyevsky.
"It's one of those books you can only read 20 pages at a time, but when you're done you're so excited," the Andrean middle hitter said. "It's a total perspective. You can play well in this game, you can play terrible in this game, you still have this amazing book to come back to."
"We'll be all warming up, batting the ball around, and she's got legs crossed reading a two-thousand-page poetry book," Andrean volleyball coach Julie Wiejak said. "That's her warm-up. That's her solace. I like that about her. She's (6-foot-4), I'm about to wreck you, but really she's so smart."
It's not just that Nicksic is smart. She's parlayed that intelligence into a volleyball hit that makes her a force for the 59ers. Andrean (28-7) will face Fairfield (34-1) at 10 a.m. today in the first match of the Class 3A Plymouth Semistate.
"Sometimes smart players can get in their own way, because they're in the mindset that things make sense, A+B=C, and that's the way it always is," Wiejak said. "She's so intelligent we've found a way to harness that and use it almost in a mad scientist way. It's not just sheer athleticism for her. It's like he-he-he (diabolical laughter). What she's been great at this year is maximizing her smartness with her talent to be a conniving, aggressive animal out there."
Nicksic played a key role in the Niners' five-game win over Kankakee Valley in the sectional opener, notching 14 kills and three blocks against the Kougars.
Wiejak said she's looking for more of that kind of performance out of her 6-foot-4 junior both this season and next.
"I think she even surprised herself (against K.V.), and she was like, 'Look what I can do when I get after it,'" Wiejak said. "I think the smarter ones have a tougher time giving into that physical, 'roar, I'm just going to go.'"
Nicksic, described as the "team mother," prefers to defer to her teammates, allowing them to record the kills or blocks.
"One of the reasons I love my team is that we work so well together, so I'm not going to get someone the ball because they're the most fun or because they're the ones I like to talk to," Nicksic said. "I'm going to get the ball to whoever can get some stuff done that game."
Marija, a middle hitter, is the younger sister of 2011 Times Player of the Year Ana Nicksic, who played setter. There is no worry at Andrean of Marija living in her sister's shadow.
"I think it helps that they don't play the same position, but they're so ridiculously different," Wiejak said. "They're not at all alike, so I think it makes it easier that there's a positional change and personality-wise they're so different."
When the Sept. 1 contact period opened for high school juniors, the youngest Nicksic opened her eyes to a stack of letters from Division I coaches looking for her skills.
Nicksic hopes to find a college that can accept her education-first attitude and find a spot for her in their history program.
"I like history," Nicksic said. "History is the ultimate story."