All-Area soccer: Player of the Year Katelynn Martinez

All-Area soccer: Player of the Year Katelynn Martinez

CHAMPAIGN — The destiny of Centennial's Class of 2013 was determined when the soccer-playing members of the group were freshmen.

That spring, in 2010, a ninth-grader was the Area Player of the Year for the first time in girls' soccer.

The news that a Centennial sophomore was Player of the Year in 2011 and that a Charger junior is the 2012 choice appears — on the surface — a case of deja vu.

Life, however, is hardly ever that neat and tidy.

What the facts represent is the incredible talent and depth in Centennial's Class of 2013.

To review:

The 2010 choice, Dagny Olson, was injured as a sophomore and unable to repeat. This spring, she played for a Chicago-area club team rather than for her high school.

The 2011 choice, Chantal Meacham, was injured this year as a junior and unable to repeat.

That set the stage for Katelynn Martinez, whose credentials include leading the area in scoring for each of the past two years, amassing 59 goals in that span.

"That whole group is a very special group," said Hsiung Marler, the Centennial coach who benefitted from the influx of talent three years ago. "They had a good club coach (ex-Charger Megan Bushue) and as a young team won the national President's Cup tournament."

Martinez is very much on the radar as one of the area's elite multi-sport athletes. Earlier this year, she was the selection as Big 12 Conference Player of the Year ... in girls' basketball.

Reaching the pinnacle

Martinez, the youngest of two siblings, will tell you her best sport — as well as her favorite one — is basketball. It's where she's getting the most interest from college coaches. She has already visited Bradley and plans to visit Missouri-Kansas City and Northern Illinois.

That there's not massive interest in her as a soccer player is not surprising. It's by choice.

"Hsiung had us fill out a college sheet about where we want to go and I was honest," Martinez said. "I don't want to play soccer in college."

It is nonetheless a sport she thoroughly enjoys.

"The first sport I played was soccer," said Martinez, who was born in Texas. "I played in the park district when I was 6.

"I was playing with guys. Sometimes I was the only girl, but I never really noticed. It was a fast game, and I enjoyed it."

She played in what was then known as the Little Illini Soccer Club — often while also traveling with the Illini Swish travel basketball team, which she joined as a fourth-grader.

She gave up club soccer as she entered high school and admitted, "I never expected myself to get to this level (in soccer)."

The key is that whatever sport she is playing has meaning and will get her full effort and attention during the season.

"If you work hard, good things come from it," Martinez said. "I like to be perfect at something, not just good."

Carryover value

Marler said the traits that allow Martinez to be outstanding in basketball also enable her to excel in soccer even though, he concedes, "there are people with better technical skills.

"During our improbable postseason run (to the Sweet 16 in Class 2A), she pulled out a lot of miracles for us," Marler said. "Her desire, her will ... and she always believes. She never thinks we're out of a game; always believes there's a chance like when we were down 3-0 against U-High (in the sectional finals) and she scored two goals.

"There's not one single ounce of quit in her."

Martinez's attitude and desire, Marler said, is seen in other teammates. Though Meacham was hurt even before practice started, "she came to every practice if she wasn't having therapy or surgery even though there was no chance of her playing and even though basketball is her main sport. I guarantee that Katelynn would have done the same thing if it had been her (who was sidelined)."

A fast learner

More than anything on the soccer pitch, Marler notices Martinez's quickness. He's glad there's another year to work on his one-liners to describe the fleet-footed junior forward.

"She's so fast," he said, "when it rains, she doesn't get wet."

Or, "she's so fast," he said, "when she turns off the lights, she's in bed before it's dark."

Or, "if she were a cheetah, she'd run so fast her spots would fall off."

Martinez said she's never considered challenging any of Centennial's track sprinters to a race.

"I'm more of a distance runner," she said. "In sixth grade (at Jefferson Middle School), I went to state in cross-country."

Though Martinez might not be a state-caliber sprinter, Marler was quick to point out, "Track speed and foot speed in soccer are not the same thing. Soccer is not straight-line fast. It's that initial burst and anticipation.

"She can read where the ball will be. She has learned to attack the defenders and how to put pressure on a team. She has learned to come back for the ball, which is not natural for most people who are speed players."

Consummate team player

Marler shouldn't be surprised. Martinez is unlike most players.

As freshmen, she and her classmates were required to do menial tasks on game day, such as carrying the water jugs.

"Katelynn still carried the jugs this year," Marler said. "She sees what needs to be done and doesn't ask someone else to do it. She does it herself. She is such a joy to coach.

"Never once has she asked how many goals she has scored."

One thing she has learned about herself from soccer will benefit her in basketball.

"When I come into soccer, sometimes I'm a little out of shape," she said. "That tells me I need to work harder (during basketball)."

It was never more obvious than when she was a ninth-grader.

"Endurance was what I needed to work on," she said. "My freshman year, I was playing midfield and it was so much running, I'd be out (for a break) within 10 minutes (of the game starting)."

Focus on stamina

That is now a distant memory.

"Junior year, I wasn't tired at all," Martinez said. "I could last a whole game."

Martinez's 31 goals this year was an impressive feat, Marler said, considering the Chargers didn't have a lineup of other prolific scorers.

"People look at our roster and wonder how we got as far as we did," Marler said. "She scored 31 goals with less help than last year. Coaches know what to expect, and they couldn't stop it. They would throw every defender they could at her and still, she just goes.

"Right now, there are fantastic players in the area. Katelynn is getting by with speed and determination. Her drive is so strong."

The coach hopes her attitude becomes contagious next spring.

"If she can make the team believe as much as she does, a motivated team can accomplish so much," Marler said.

"K-Mart" special

The nickname might seem obvious for someone whose name is Katelynn Martinez, but it came into fruition for a practical reason.

In the early years playing with the Illini Swish, one of her basketball teammates was Kaelin Taylor. When coaches would just say the first names quickly, Martinez said, "we'd think, 'Who are they talking to.' "

To make it clear, Martinez said, "they called her 'KT' and called me 'K-Mart.' "

Taylor died in a 2007 house fire. Martinez's moniker stuck.

"Even teachers call me that," she said.

The determination that coaches see in Martinez's athletic endeavors is evident in other phases of her life.

Though sports keep her busy — "I'm gone about every weekend in the summer," she said. "There are few weekends to rest and do nothing." — it's important to Martinez to be involved in school activities such as Interact, a student service group whose projects include organizing the annual Austin Cloyd Day.

She has also volunteered at Empty Tomb, helping to sort clothes, and worked at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp.

It's part of her life on the run, and part of the mantra she follows in the games she plays: "I love giving assists," Martinez said.