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Winter 2006 | Volume 29, Number 1 | Athletics

Field Goals

Women’s Soccer Player Sarah Martinez Succeeds On and Off the Field

Sophomore Sarah Martinez can’t think of a time when she didn’t play soccer. “My mother played, and my sister played, and I was in youth leagues as far back as I can remember,” says the Falcon forward. “I’ve always loved soccer. I ran track one year in high school, but I don’t really like running unless there is somewhere to run to.”

Sarah Martinez, the 2006 Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s soccer player of the year, was recruited by several NCAA Division I schools before choosing to attend SPU.

Soccer players, of course, rarely run in a straight line for long. The sport requires sudden changes of direction. And knowing that people find meaning in sports as a metaphor for life, one shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that Martinez has negotiated a few twists and turns in her 19 years. But, in life as on the field, she appears to be staying with the ball.

Her first turning point came at age 10, when she joined a stalwart Seattle Pacific University family. Martinez’s mother married Byron Nutley ’87 — son of the late Hugh Nutley, who taught physics and electrical engineering at Seattle Pacific for more than 31 years. With the marriage came a move from Riverside, California, to the Seattle area.

Meanwhile, Martinez’s soccer skills kept developing, first at Redmond High School and later at Cedar Park Christian High School in Bothell. As a senior, she was named Class 1A/B player of the year while leading the Eagles to their third consecutive state championship.

If Cedar Park was a small pond, Martinez was a big fish, and several Division I colleges came calling. Her initial choice was to follow her sister Nicole to the University of Washington. But then UW Assistant Coach Chuck Sekyra ’89 took the head coach position at Seattle Pacific, and all of a sudden things fell into place for Martinez.

“I had heard really good things about him,” she says. “And my step-dad and grandpa were really positive about SPU.”

She’s confident that she made the right choice. “The Christian atmosphere at SPU is becoming more important to me as I go along,” explains Martinez, who’s majoring in business with a minor in psychology. “It’s nice to always have Christianity as your basis for learning and your basis for playing.”

There have been other turns in the road for Martinez. In her senior year at Cedar Park, her parents moved to Singapore and her brother was deployed to Iraq, leaving her with relatives while she finished high school. It was a transforming experience. “Before then I had kind of slacked off with my grades,” she says. “But suddenly I was alone, and I decided it was time to grow up.” She refocused her attention on academics and is now earning some of the best grades of her life at SPU.

On the field, Martinez leads the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in goals, total points, and game-winning goals. That’s a dramatic improvement over last year, when she had to take time off to recover from a partially torn medial collateral ligament. “I came back rusty midway through the season,” she says. “I would lose the ball and put my head down, and Chuck had to remind me not to give up. Now if I lose a ball, I’m the first person to turn around, sprint back, and try to find it.”

Martinez also praises her coach as a strategist; she says he’s helped the team come from behind in several games this season by changing formations and match-ups. But for Sekyra, coaching is primarily about motivation. “I encourage my players to grow academically and spiritually,” he says. “To get them believing in themselves and feeling great about themselves is a huge goal of mine by the time they leave here.”

His strategy is working. The Falcon women’s basketball team may have snagged more headlines with its 89-5 tally over the past three years, but Sekyra and his players have built a record every bit as impressive. Since September 28, 2002, Seattle Pacific women’s soccer has reeled off 57 regular-season games without a loss. Currently the NCAA Divi-sion II team is No. 1 in the region and No. 2 in the nation.

About the only thing they haven’t done since the program was inaugurated five years ago is win a national tournament, but that just gives them something to shoot for. “In five years,” says Sekyra, “I want to see the team where it is right now, except maybe the women will have a couple of championship rings.”

With skilled players such as Martinez, the prediction seems likely. “Sarah’s become a real leader on this team,” adds Sekyra. “She understands the gifts the Lord has given her, and she’s using them — on and off the field.”

— BY Martin Stillion

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