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Volleyball runs in the Martini family at Seneca Valley

Jerry Clark
| Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Seneca Valley coach Karen Martini (right) talks with daughter Sydney at a  practice in 2013.
Seneca Valley coach Karen Martini (right) talks with daughter Sydney at a practice in 2013.

During her playing days, Seneca Valley volleyball coach Karen Martini remembers vividly a huge moment in her career, and how she shared that moment with her mom.

“I played high school volleyball in a tiny school in Brockway,” she said. “I was recruited to play D-II volleyball at Edinboro University. The worst part for me was walking into the school and not being sure I was good enough to play …”

It was not long after that she earned a starting outside hitter position as a freshman.

“I remember calling my mom from a pay phone crying,” Karen Martini said.

The moment resonates with the coach, who is experiencing a role reversal. Martini's daughter Sydney is a junior hitter on the Seneca Valley team.

With Karen coaching for the past 12 years at the high school and club levels, she would take her children to practices and games.

It started off with Sydney pulling her younger brother around the gym in his Sponge Bob sleeping bag and using it to deflect stray balls from hitting him, to taking a spot at the head of the bench as a fifth-grader with a clipboard keeping track of timeouts and other game details.

Despite Sydney's seeming interest, Karen Martini hesitated in training her daughter.

“I did not want to press her, I wanted her to figure it out,” Karen said.

During a camp, California (Pa.) middle hitter and Seneca Valley grad Meghan Franz took the younger Martini under her wing.

“I was not good,” Sydney said. “Meghan took me as her partner and she really helped me out.”

Sydney pushed up through the club and high school ranks until she had a chance to play on the varsity team. Karen Martini said there were some significant challenges when her daughter began to play for her.

“I can address her like any other player, but I do go at her harder sometimes,” Karen Martini said. “The hardest thing is at home where it can feel like Sydney doesn't have a mom figure (as opposed to a coach). If we have a bad match, sometimes she will sit and talk to her dad, or ask me to be just ‘mom' and just listen.”

Growing up in a volleyball environment, Sydney said her mom always made sure the kids had everything they needed, but one thing she didn't anticipate was how the game was going to draw her in.

“I watched the competition and the way the players would crush the ball and thinking that I could not wait to do that,” Sydney said. “But, playing for my mom is something I try to push out of my mind.”

Martini said it can get uneasy if Sydney makes a mistake in a game.

“I take it hard if she misses,” Karen Martini said. “She is well-rounded and one of the best hitters on the team. I do rely on my assistants to give her feedback that I can't always give.”

Sydney said she can tell when her mom gets frustrated.

“I know when I do something wrong and that is when it is hard to separate coach/mom,” she said. “I know she is harder on me, and those are times when she is more mom than coach.”

Like any relationship — be it parent/child or player/coach — there is stress, but in addition to sharing a sport they love, the good aspects outweigh the tough times.

“It is hard sometimes not to give her a hug on the court,” Karen Martini said.

The two have enjoyed a WPIAL championship season and a trip to Dallas and the national tournament for their club team.

“Giving her that gold medal as a freshman at WPIALs and getting to nationals were great moments,” Karen Martini said.

There was nothing better for the mom and coach than for Karen to see her daughter reach her dream.

“I was so motivated because I had waited three or four years to reach nationals,” Sydney said. “We won against a strong team from eastern Pennsylvania 25-16, to get there. It was a neat experience seeing that winning point fall.”

Sydney said she wants to play volleyball beyond high school.

“We will look at different things and she will take me on visits when the time comes,” Sydney said. “She has been through this and I saw how she has helped others.”

Jerry Clark is a sports writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or

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