CENTENARY, Ohio — The ink is dry, the destination is set and the rehabilitation is under way.
On Wednesday afternoon in the Gallia Academy High School library, GAHS senior Grace Martin, who missed all but five matches this fall due to injury, signed her National Letter of Intent to join the West Virginia State University volleyball team next season.
“This means everything, especially after missing my senior year,” said Martin. “I’m looking forward to continuing my volleyball career, especially at a school like West Virginia State. I’m going through rehab right now, my goal is to better than I was.”
In her first three seasons at GAHS, Martin’s impact was felt, as the Blue Angels complied a 64-9 record with two Ohio Valley Conference titles, two Southeastern Ohio Athletic League crowns and the school’s first trip to the district final in 15 years.
“She’s been with me since my first year of varsity, so obviously this one probably means a little more,” GAHS head coach Janice Rosier said. “She’s been what I consider every coach’s hope, meaning she came to practice every day to get better than she was the day before. When you have a kid with that much talent that works that hard, it leads the whole team.
“I expect big things,” Rosier said of Martin’s future. “I’m excited to go watch her and see the next chapter of her career. She will succeed in anything she wants to do, whether it be in life or on the volleyball court.”
As a freshman, Martin earned was named to the honorable mention part of the All-SEOAL team. The following year, she was named SEOAL Player of the Year, and was a first team selection in the OVC, SEOAL and District 13.
Martin repeated as a first team selection on both the district and OVC teams as a junior, and she became the first Blue Angel volleyball player to earn All-Ohio honors, picking up a special mention.
After a meniscus tear in a tournament between her junior and senior seasons, Martin made it four games into the 2017 campaign before tearing her ACL. However, Grace — who will be fully healthy by the time her freshman season starts at WVSU — made it back on the court for senior night, serving and recording a service point.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed the past few years,” Martin said. “My freshman year was different, only being in the front row. I feel I stepped up as a player and leader on the court, improving in my sophomore year and my junior year. I wish I could have been a part of the team this year in a different way than the one I had to be, because I think we could have done something better than last year.”
For her varsity career, Martin finished with 540 kills, 238 blocks, 735 digs, 128 assists, and 508 service points, including 123 aces. For two of her high school seasons, Grace was joined on the Blue Angels varsity team by her younger sister Peri, who stepped into the starting setter’s role as a sophomore this fall.
Located in Institute, in Kanawha County, West Virginia State is just over an hour’s drive from GAHS. West Virginia State is an NCAA Division II school and the Yellow Jackets compete in the Mountain East Conference.
At WVSU — where Grace will major in Criminal Justice with a plan to go on to law school — Martin will be coached by a familiar face in former Logan Elm head coach Kris Kern.
Kern is the all-time winningest coach in Ohio high school volleyball, posting a record of 762-81 record, with his 760th win coming over Martin and the Blue Angels in the 2016 district final.
“She was one of the hardest players that I ever had to game plan against as a high school coach,” said Kern. “After the game, I stopped her in the congratulatory line and said ‘I’m pretty well respected with college coaches, if you need help getting into college, call me and I’ll give you a great recommendation.’ She said ‘that means the world to me,’ and we went on about our business. Little did we know that a little while later I’d become the new head coach at West Virginia State.
“After I stopped by Tabi Pontious’ house — Tabi was my setter at Logan Elm and she committed to come here — my next phone call was to find out where Grace was in the recruiting process,” added Kern. “I told her to forget the offer that I made to help her get into college with anyone else, she was going to be my priority. She became my first recruit of this class and I certainly think she’s a gem. She’s a wonderful young person, her family is amazing and she’s a great volleyball player.”
In his first year with the Yellow Jackets, Kern improved the team’s win total by eight from the previous year, going 14-14.
“Everyone wants to go to a winning team, but if you’re part of building something and making it better, that’s something special.” said Martin. “A year ago, I never thought I’d be signing with Coach Kern, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. I think he’s a good coach and you can tell that by how he built Logan Elm’s program.”
Grace — the daughter of Rick and Leanna Martin — also excels in the classroom, getting a 27 on her ACT, while holding a 3.95 grade-point-average at GAHS, where she is ranked 10th in the class of 2018.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.