Prep pulse: Martin finds renewed energy coaching Oak Hall volleyball


Longtime Oak Hall volleyball coach Cari Martin, who ranks among the state's winningest coaches with 570 victories, opens her 26th season on Tuesday.

Rick Runion/ The Lakeland Ledger
Published: Sunday, August 25, 2013 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 9:17 p.m.

Cari Martin is entering her 26th year as volleyball coach at Oak Hall.

That means the year she started, in 1987, Ronald Reagan was in his last year as president.

And just look at what she has accomplished — 12 trips to the state tournament, four times state runner-up and two times state champion in 1997 and 1999. Her record — 570-181 — speaks for itself, as one of the state's winningest high school volleyball coaches.

On Tuesday in Cross City, she starts it up again as her Eagles open the 2013 season against Dixie County.

A few years ago, Martin didn't know if she wanted coach anymore. When her friend and longtime Gainesville High coach Cindy Boulware retired (still the school's athletic director) after 23 years with a record of 551-155, Oak Hall's longtime coach was considering a similar move.

Afterall, the two started coaching volleyball at their respective schools the same year.

Ironically, Martin says it was a phone call from me that made her reflect on what she was doing.

“Because I had been telling you and telling you that I was thinking about it, and I sat there at the local Whataburger for two hours after your phone call with my dad,” Martin recalled. “He said, 'what is it?' You made me reflect and I appreciated that.”

It was more than just a phone call, though. Martin turned to another friend, Stephanie Wyatt, who had started Vision Volleyball of Gainesville, a club volleyball organization, and became one of the coaches.

That helped to rekindle an excitement in volleyball that Martin has always had. And still does.

“Club made me appreciate what I have at Oak Hall,” she said. “It made me understand that I love doing this. How could I ever walk away from it?”

Her devotion to the sport and the many kids that have gone through the halls of Oak Hall has impressed fellow coaches, like district rival Nick Cheronis of St. Francis.

“She has been great for area volleyball,” said Cheronis, a former longtime volleyball assistant coach at Florida. “She coaches all the younger kids in club volleyball. She is great for the sport.”

There is also no bigger cheerleader for area volleyball than Martin, who updated me on several matches during last year's state playoffs. When St. Francis stunned highly-ranked Tallahassee Maclay on the road, she couldn't wait to share that with me, and you would have thought it was her players that did it.

But make no mistake, she treasures her years at Oak Hall and wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

“I love Oak Hall, I love these kids,” she said. “I have been very successful and have some state titles. I got a new life. I think I needed to have a reality check, and I realized I have the best job in America. I would not want to be anywhere else but at Oak Hall coaching volleyball.”

STREAKING ALONG: Lafayette, which has won back-to-back Class 1A volleyball titles and went a perfect 25-0 a year ago, enters this season riding a 43-match win streak. Last year, the Hornets, under coach Sonya Land, gave up just one game, at Newberry, the entire season. Lafayette's last loss came on Aug. 29, 2011.

SPECIAL RECOGNITION:: When Gainesville travels to Lake City Friday to open the football season against Columbia, there will be two recognitions on display, one before the game and one during.

Before the game, the Columbia County Q-Back Club and community will be honoring the late Pat Summerall, a former NFL player who was a very successful and popular broadcaster on CBS for years, and who grew up in Lake City. The Summerall family will be there for the pre-game ceremony.

Between the first and second quarters, the Tigers' softball team, which won the school's first state title in the sport three months ago, will also be recognized and receive their championship rings. Both third baseman Kayli Kvistad, a UF commit, and coach Jimmy Williams were honored by the Florida Dairy Farmers as the Class 6A player and coach of the year.

BACK AT SANTA FE COLLEGE:: Former P.K. Yonge basketball coach Carlos Villalobos, who coached at Cornerstone Academy last year, is returning to Santa Fe College as an assistant coach. Villalobos originally left the Blue Wave to coach at SFC.

BUCHHOLZ TIME TRIAL:: On Saturday morning, Buchholz held its annual cross country time trial at the open field at Santa Fe College. Joseph Janson of P.K. Yonge won the boys' 5K run in 16:48 with Drew Monteau of Buchholz finishing fifth (17:33). Lake City Middle School eighth grader Bridget Morse placed first in the girls at 20:10. Emma Tucker, representing Eye of the Tiger Running Club, finished second (20:32), followed by Cassie Pierron of Lake City Middle (21:11) in third. Buchholz's Isabella Whelan (21:11) and Sara Edens (21:20) came in fourth and fifth, respectively.

BASEBALL COMMITMENT:: Buchholz senior pitcher David Lee has verbally committed to play baseball at FIU.

SOFTBALL COMMITMENTS:: Kaylee Smith (Buchholz, senior) verbally committed to the College of Central Florida, and Summer Damiano (Williston, junior) verbally committed to FAU. Both play travel softball for the Gainesville Gold.

PARTICIPATION INCREASES:: According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation in high school sports increased for the 24th straight year, passing 7.7 million for the first time. During the 2012-13 school year, participation reached an all-time high nationwide of 7,713,577, an increase of 21,057 from the previous year.

BLITZ PAGE RETURNS:: Yes, it is that time of year, isn't it? We say bye-bye to Prep Pulse and welcome back the The Blitz Page, which during the fall comes out every Friday. We will have our popular A to Z feature, our football previews for those season openers and yes, we will pick games. Our panel includes myself, Paul Kardasz, John Boothe and Laura Bernheim. And we will debut our Power Poll, the top 10 football teams in the area. Next week, all the games really count.

Contact Larry Savage at 352-374-5050 or larry.savage@gvillesun.com. And follow him at Twitter.com/sunpreps

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