Naming a captain can be a tricky thing for a high school coach.
Some coaches select their own captains. Others allow the team to vote for their own leaders, while some even ask top candidates to write an essay outlining the reasons they would make a good leader.
When it came time to name a captain for the 2014 girls’ soccer team at Vance High School, coach Matthew Clapp knew that no matter what selection tactic he used, the answer was going to be the same.
A four-year varsity starter on the defensive side of the ball and the class valedictorian, Karen Martinez has been exactly what Clapp looks for in his leaders.
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Martinez “has become much more vocal as she’s gotten older,” said Clapp. “She is always offering help and pushing girls to work harder, whether it’s her varsity teammates or even the freshman who are new to the (junior varsity) program.”
Martinez, who moved to the United States from El Salvador when she was 8 years old and hopes eventually to attend Davidson College, was excited to step into the role of captain.
“I had been looking forward to becoming a captain,” she said. “In the past years, we’ve had some good captains. I just want to make sure that I bring enthusiasm and leadership.”
As a freshman on the varsity team three years ago, Martinez – who has a 4.9 GPA – wasn’t always so confident she belonged. She felt out of place playing against girls three to four years older than her, with the large crowds that formed to watch the varsity games only adding to the nerves.
“Being a freshman on the varsity team, that was intimidating in a sense,” said Martinez. “But now as a senior, people look up to me and rely on me. It’s more like I have to be a leader, so I am.”
When Clapp took over the Vance program two seasons ago, Martinez was a quiet sophomore who often deferred to seniors when it was time for something to be said.
“As she has gotten older and is now a senior and a captain, she has become much more vocal during practices so far this year,” said Clapp. “She’s always trying to push the other girls to work harder.”
Martinez excels on the field in large part because of her high on-field IQ. At 5-foot-2, it’s her ability to be in the right position and take the best angles to the ball that help her prevent goals, although some speed doesn’t hurt.
Her interest in soccer started young and was helped along by her older brother, Jose, who also played varsity soccer for the Cougars.
Jose, three years older than Karen and who always played on the offensive side of the ball, would take Karen with him to Reedy Creek Park in Charlotte to train on the weekends. He’d dribble the ball around as Karen did her best to take it away, likely explaining why she grew to excel at defense.
“There’s not one specific memory I have of (my brother and I) playing together,” said Martinez. “There’s just images in my head of him telling me how to kick a ball, from what angle, and when to use laces … just different tips like that.”
After always playing on the defensive half of the field, Martinez is set to slot into the sweeper position this season.
Situated just in front of the keeper, with free range of the back line of defense for the Cougars, she’s able to see the entire field.
“Our biggest weakness (as a team) is that we sometimes lose our shape,” said Martinez. “I’m not out there telling everyone what to do, but I can remind them to fall back into their positions.
“I think this year doing that will be easier, because I’ll be the sweeper and can get see everyone in front of me.”
Asked what moment stands out the most in his memory when he thinks about Martinez’ time with the Cougars, Clapp struggled to pick just one.
“My best memory of Karen is not a specific event, or play,” he said. “It’s just having the pleasure of working with and coaching such a selfless and class kid. This program will miss her dearly next year when she is off to college.”