Female Area Athlete of the Week: Sophomore Martini leading Patriots’ offense
Maci Martini scored 19 points in a blowout win for Pequot Lakes and is one of the cornerstones for the Patriots' offense.
With many returning players from last year’s Section 7-2A runner-up team, the Pequot Lakes Patriots came in with expectations.
Sophomore Maci Martini, who as a freshman last season led the Patriots in scoring at 11.7 points per game, continues to improve to make Pequot even better.
Last week, Martini scored 19 points against Mid-State Conference rival Staples-Motley in a 69-25 win.
“Against Staples, we knew we had to work the ball around more,” Martini said. “We were working hard in practice to get ready for the game.”
Martini was able to get her points in the paint and from the 3-point line where she feels comfortable.
“I am one of the taller guards, so I can use that to my advantage,” Martini said. “My teammates were really finding me down low.
“My main strength is shooting, but this year, I’ve been doing a better job at driving and crashing the boards and getting rebounds.”
First-year Pequot head coach Brian Lempola liked to see how aggressive Martini was.
“She is definitely one of our leaders on the team and someone we look to for a basket,” Lempola said. “That’s not going to be her only big night. She’ll have many more to come.
“Maci is a very instinctive and intelligent player that is an excellent shooter with a quick release. She has great court awareness, natural instincts and understands the intricacies of the game which are hard to teach.”
Martini is an inside-outside threat for Lempola.
“She can pour them in from behind the arc,” he said. “She’s one of our best shooters and most pure shooters. But she also has really improved in rebounding being one of our taller guards.”
The win against S-M was a nice bounce-back game for Pequot who fell to Mid-State Conference foe Detroit Lakes earlier in the week for its first loss of the year.
“We wanted to come back with a win after losing to Detroit Lakes,” Martini said.
Lempola said the team is starting to figure out the new offense he implemented.
“The chemistry is coming and offensively we are playing faster and not thinking about things as much,” Lempola said. “It was a big win for us.”
Lempola said his team goes 11 deep with multiple girls able to lead the team in scoring any given night. In a game against Park Rapids Jan. 28, four different Patriots led the team in scoring with six points with 11 different players in the scoring column in a 43-36 win over the Panthers.
“Our bench is very much the reason why we are successful most games,” he said. “We are a deep team and (the bench) can pick up the slack when needed.”
Martini thinks it’s nice to have a deep team.
“If someone is being guarded tightly one game then someone else will have a really good night,” she said. “We can play all positions at practice, so we switch around and that helps.”
Martini's younger sister Kelsi, who is a freshman, also plays varsity for Pequot.
“It’s fun to play with her and we know we can count on each other on the floor,” Martini said of playing with her sister. “We know each other’s style of play, so one of us will do a certain cut and we will find each other. So we play well with each other.”
Martini said the chemistry with the whole team has been good all season.
“We are close on and off the court which helps,” she said. “We had a lot of people coming back from last year and a lot of new freshmen who have been fitting in with the group well.”
Lempola sometimes forgets how young Martini and his team are.
“(Martini) has such high character and is willing to put in the time and sacrifices to not just be a good player, but a great player,” he said. “To start building that foundation with her and this crew of freshmen, which is pretty talented, you forget about how young they are.”
Last year saw the Patriots’ season end against Duluth Marshall in the Section 7-2A finals. The Hilltoppers are not the only challenge for the Patriots as Mid-State Conference rival Crosby-Ironton will be another section hurdle.
“Our goal is to get back to the section game,” Martini said. “We just have to keep working hard and playing well together.”
Lempola added that each year is very different, so it’s hard to know if last year’s success will carry over.
“I think they have a lot of chemistry and are comfortable playing with each other and know each other's tendencies and can find one another,” Lempola said. “And they enjoy playing with each other.”
Martini was quick to give credit to senior captain Aften Crocker for her leadership. Crocker is a player that Martini looks up to.
“She’s been a great leader this year,” Martini said. “We are also great friends, so that helps and she is a good role model.”
Lempola expects Martini to be a leader for years to come.
“Maci is very self-motivated and spends a lot of time in the offseason working to improve her game,” he said. “She is one of those players that just loves to be in the gym. This year she has taken on more of a vocal leadership role on the team with us being such a young team.”
Other notable performances:
Basketball: Tori Oehrlein, Crosby-Ironton, finished with 34 points and 16 rebounds against Mesabi East and 18 points and 12 rebounds against Aitkin.
Karlie Nixon, Crosby-Ironton, scored 21 points against Mesabi East and 22 points against Aitkin.
Rylie Hirschey, Pine River-Backus, scored 22 points against Browerville.
Reagan Ludovissie, Verndale, scored 24 points against Sebeka.
Lauren Rutten, Staples-Motley, scored 17 points against Park Rapids.
Courtney Strohmeier, Pierz, scored 17 points against Zimmerman.
Tegan Piecek, Aitkin, scored 19 points against Hill City/Northland.
Hockey: Rose Aldridge, Northern Lakes, scored two goals against Detroit Lakes.
Riley Fogarty, Northern Lakes, scored two goals against Detroit Lakes.
School: Pequot Lakes
Highlights: Scored 19 points against Staples-Motley.