It baffled some women’s college basketball coaches that Bellarmine Prep’s Claire Martin hadn’t signed a letter of intent. She has the 6-foot-4 frame, athleticism and competitiveness to comfortably play at the next level.
Exactly why she signed with Washington State University. Just not for basketball.
It made for an awkward conversation with those coaches.
“After the state (basketball) tournament people would say, ‘Hey, we see Claire hasn’t signed. What’s going on with that?’ ” Bellarmine Prep girls basketball coach Kevin Meines said. “My standard response was ‘Sorry, she’s committed to Wazzu for volleyball.’
“Playing both sports at such a high level — you just don’t see that kind of athleticism.”
Martin didn’t start playing volleyball until her freshman year of high school. Then she helped Bellarmine Prep win three 4A state titles in her three years on varsity.
She combined that with four years of varsity basketball, including three trips to at least the regional round of the state tournament.
That’s why Martin is The News Tribune’s 2014-15 Female Senior Athlete of the Year.
She had played basketball since kindergarten and idolized former Stanford great and San Antonio Stars center Jayne Appel. Martin said she dreamed of one day playing basketball at Stanford.
It wasn’t until her sophomore year that the dream transformed from becoming a Pac-12 basketball player to a Pac-12 volleyball player.
“It’s like loving a movie, but then a new movie comes out and you love that even more,” Martin said.
She joined the Bellarmine Prep volleyball team four years ago because she was forfeiting her career as a soccer player.
Yes, soccer. She was the tallest sweeper in their league. Martin said her teammates forced her to wear No. 99.
“So I was really intimidating,” Martin said. “I thought it was funny. I knew it was my last soccer year, so I went with it.”
The first thing since-retired Bellarmine Prep volleyball coach Jody DeGroot noticed about Martin — as most everyone else does — was her height.
But then the awkwardness and poor coordination.
Martin played on the junior varsity squad her entire freshman season, but DeGroot said she noticed Martin’s game improve dramatically from start to finish.
“We understand as coaches that you can’t teach height,” DeGroot said. “But just playing the sport of volleyball — she didn’t have that part figured out yet.”
Martin spent the offseason playing club volleyball and getting help from Bellarmine Prep graduate and current University of Washington volleyball player Courtney Schwan.
“And it was so nice that she kept growing,” DeGroot said. “You don’t usually get someone who can reach up and then get her to reach over the net. Once she mastered that and the types of blocks she could get, it was pretty amazing because it’s a game-changer when you have a middle blocker like that.”
She was an All-Area volleyball player each of the past two years. She had 110 blocked shots in 96 sets played this past season as the Lions won their third consecutive state title. Those are the only three volleyball titles in school history.
Basketball came much easier.
Meines put her on varsity as a freshman, when she wore pigtails and braces.
“You look at her and you’d think, ‘There’s no way this kid is going to be an athlete,’” Meines said. “Then as an eighth-grader in our first summer basketball practice, I’m like, ‘OK, you’re with me (on varsity).’”
Martin led the Lions girls basketball team with 11.9 points and 8.1 rebounds and three blocks per game this past season, which ended with Bellarmine Prep going 1-2 in the Tacoma Dome.
Her mother, Mary Raese Martin, is in the University of Idaho Hall of Fame after she held the women’s basketball program’s career scoring record for almost 20 years. She graduated from Eastmont High School in Wenatchee and Martin’s father, Tim, from Gonzaga Prep.
But is Martin better at sending a ball over the net, or though it?
That depends on who you ask.
DeGroot said she always saw Martin as volleyball player.
“I hear a lot of people saying, ‘I can’t believe it. She could be (an NCAA Division I) basketball player. I can’t believe she chose volleyball.’ ” DeGroot said. “And I’m like, ‘Why not?’”
Meines said he still contends that Martin is a better basketball player.
“She could have gone anywhere she wanted in basketball,” Meines said.
But he doesn’t begrudge her.
“Claire and I have been at this together for a long time. We got to know each other very well,” Meines said. “She was a sophomore when we heard that she was enjoying volleyball and getting the bug to play it. I told her, ‘Listen, I just want you to be happy.’ We would talk about volleyball recruiting and what to expect there. For me, seeing a kid like her get what she wants and what she deserves, it didn’t matter which sport it was to me.
“I think she made the right choice. It makes her happy.”
But not the college basketball coaches.