Photo submitted by Michael Martinez
‘Monday Night Lights’ fuel San Marcos' hot start
Ahead of Liberty Hill’s 10-9 victory over San Marcos on Thursday, Panthers head coach Phillip Dodd strolled over to speak to the Rattlers.
“San Marcos, I know Coach Martinez from a long time ago, you have improved tremendously in four years,” Dodd said. “And you look like a team.”
It was all true, and everything that head coach Michael Martinez had hoped for since he joined the program in 2015.
When Martinez first took over, the Rattlers hardly resembled a team. He had just 11 boys and seven girls. Varsity rosters are required to have a minimum of seven players on each.
Martinez also noticed there wasn’t much chemistry between teammates. Tennis is an individual sport, but the players were too individual off the court.
“When I came, they had had a series of coaches come through,” Martinez said. “So there was a turnover of the coaches, and because of that, there was a team but there was no purpose moving forward.”
Martinez’s first goal was to beef up the roster. He sought out players who had the passion and commitment that tennis requires and encouraged them to join the team. He also reached out to the middle school programs, so that he could help develop future players at a younger age.
His next job was to bring the team together, and did so by starting “Monday Night Lights.” Rather than secluding his players to themselves, Martinez opened his courts up to any high school player every Monday from 6-9 p.m.
“Most schools, their programs end. Ours continued on throughout the whole entire summer,” Martinez said. “As a team, you also want to see different people, so I just opened it up. I just thought ‘There needs to be a place,’ so I made San Marcos the hub city for tennis.”
Now in his fourth season, Martinez has succeeded at both tasks. The roster is up to 22 boys and 16 girls, six of whom are in the top 10 of their academic class. The freshmen that Martinez started with are now the seasoned senior leaders of the squad.
The coach said players have come from all over Central Texas for Monday Night Lights, including Lockhart, Navarro, Seguin and Wimberley. The variety of competition has made the Rattlers a lot closer - and stronger. The team finished third in its district last season and started this year off on a 5-0 run.
“We started gelling a little bit more as a family,” Martinez said. “We haven’t really had that team/family aspect before.”
“We were just really excited to start the year,” senior Dakota Fernandez said. “A lot of us have been putting in a lot of work, and so it’s just what got us that good start. I mean, digging it out of close matches where it could’ve gone either way on at least three of those. So, we were able to just gut it out and persevere.”
Things were a bit different against Liberty Hill on Thursday, though. San Marcos narrowly fell behind during doubles play, 4-3, after junior Yetta Williams and senior Alyssa Laplant couldn’t close out a tie-breaker, losing 9-8 (7-3). It was the first time this season the Rattlers didn’t take the doubles lead.
San Marcos battled back in singles play, but couldn’t cobble enough wins together to take back the lead.
“We dug ourselves a hole,” Laplant said. “And we were just trying to get out of it and just didn’t have enough time.”
The loss hasn’t affected the team too much. The Rattlers bounced back on Saturday against LB Johnson, beating the Jaguars 14-4, and still have lofty goals for the season.
“We’re in a new district and so we definitely want to make a bigger impact,” Fernandez said. “We want to make sure that they know our name when we go in. I think they’ll be surprised when they play us.”
San Marcos starts district play on Tuesday, hosting Cibolo Steele at 4 p.m.