Unlike some of the players who have come through the Edwardsville High School girls basketball program in recent years, Kate Martin knew exactly what to expect at her first Tigers practice four years ago.
The daughter of Edwardsville football coach Matt Martin, Kate Martin had the opportunity to watch as older sister Kennedy played a key role for a program already established as one of the best in the state under coach Lori Blade.
"It helped in that my sister played here. She helped prepare me and told me what it was going to be like playing for coach Blade and coach (Donna) Farley,'' Martin said. "Four years later, I understand. Coach Blade just knows the game so well and she prepared us to the best of her ability. The time and effort that she puts into coaching is just unmatched.
"Was she tough on me? Yes. at times. But I always knew that what she was saying was in my best interest. She always wanted the best for all of us. I appreciate that.''
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Martin leaves the Tigers program as one of the best players in school history. Fourth on the Tigers all-time scoring list with more than 1,500 points, the 6-foot Martin also ends her career ranked in the top four in Tigers history in assists and steals.
She was at her very best during the 2017-18 season. Named as an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association first team all-state selection along with teammate Rachel Pranger, Martin averaged a career best 16.2 points, while making 63.9 percent of her shots (189-of -296) as she led Edwardsville to a fourth place finish at the Class 4A State Tournament.
Martin, who averaged 6..6 points as a freshman and continued to grow into an NCAA Division I recruit, was a total team player according to Blade.
"Kate's competitive nature, tremendous work ethic and great attitude are things that she brings to an endeavor she undertakes,'' Blade said. "She consistently seeks to improve her skills regardless of past successes.
"Kate's willingness to push herself is contagious and brings the level of competition and commitment in her teammates to greater heights.''
While Martin's individual numbers and accolades are impressive, she was a major part of a Tigers program that continued to dominate its competition. Edwardsville compiled a record of 122-6 during the past four years. That mark included four straight Southwestern Conference championships, four regional, four sectional and two super-sectional crowns..
Edwardsville, which placed second in the Class 4A state tournament a year ago, did not lose a home game during the past four years. Martin admits she has mixed feelings that he high school career has ended.
"To be honest, lately I've actually been kind of sad about it. It's finally hit me that my high school career is over It's kind of bittersweet really,'' Martin said. "I'm excited about the future and attending and playing basketball at Iowa, but I'm sad that i won''t be playing for Coach Blade and (assistant) Coach (Katie) Ponce. I'm going to miss my teammates as well. We were pretty close this year.''
The Tigers finished 30-2 this past season. Playing a difficult non-conference schedule which included wins over St. Louis powers Kirkwood, St. Joseph's Academy and Incarnate Word, Edwardsville rolled through the SWC with a 14-0 record then withstood challenges from Belleville East in the regional title game and Rock Island in the sectional championship contest.
"There is always pressure. Especially winning the (St. Louis) Visitation Tournament and the teams we beat there. The recognition we got with being ranked No. 1 in the state. I think we beat two teams which won state championships in Missouri in winning the Visitation Tournament,'' Martin said. "There wasn't a lot of competition in the conference (SWC) but there are always things you can work on.''
But after disposing of Mother McAuley in the Class 4A Bloomington Super-Sectional, the Tigers met their match at Redbird Arena in Normal. Taking on a Lombard Montini team they had beaten in the state semi-finals a year ago, Edwardsville fell 37-30 this time, then fell in the third place game (45-41) to Maine West.
"The game against Belleville East in the regional woke us up a little bit. Then we went on and played great at the sectional and again at the super-sectional,'' Martin said. "At the state tournament, we just didn't make shots.''
Martin will leave for Iowa in early June to begin workouts with her new teammates. She's been hitting the weight room after school, working on her shot and playing as much as she can in open gyms and pickup games.
"I know I have to get stronger. Big Ten basketball is very physical and fast paced,'' Martin said. "I think being .out there all summer and practicing with the team will help get me ready.
"I have never really gone through an entire basketball preseason and I think doing that will also help me get ready. They recruited me as a 2-3 (shooting guard/small forward). But I'm just going to be ready. Wherever they need me to play, I'll play. There are three other players they brought in as far as the freshmen class goes. Iowa had a good year this year. They got beat by Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last week. Hopefully we can come in and make an impact next year.''
Martin will be reunited at Iowa with another former Edwardsville High School all-state athlete. A.J. Epenesa. One of the top high school athletes in the nation a year ago, Epenesa is a starting defensive lineman with the Hawkeyes football team.
"A.J and I are friends and we've talked a few times about school. He keeps telling me its not easy but its worth it I know he really loves it at Iowa,'' Martin said. "It's kind of nice that he's there. I'm sure we'll be hanging out sometimes.''
Class 3A-4A All-Area Girls Basketball Team
Player of the Year
Kate Martin, Edwardsville, sr.
Coach of the Year
Lori Blade, Edwardsville
Rachel Pranger, Edwardsville, sr.
B'Aunce Carter, Belleville East, jr.
Kaylee Eaton, Civic Memorial, sr.
Faye Meissner, Central, sr.
Sydney Thurwalker, O'Fallon, sr.
Kaylah Rainey, Belleville East, jr.
Clare Breden, Jerseyville, fr.
Myriah Noodel-Haywood, Edwardsville, sr.
Rokelle Stanley, East St. Louis, sr.
Ellie Brown, Highland, so.
Anna Hall, Civic Memorial, so.
Rece Portell, Highland, sr.
Mya Glanton, East St. Louis, jr.
Sophia Bonaldi, Colmbia, jr.
Carson Newkirk, Central, sr.
Bryce Dowell, Belleville East; Whitney Edwards, Columbia; Amaya Keeling, Mascoutah; Ivoree Lacey, Alton; Faith Liljegren, Collinsville; Quierra Love, Edwardsville; Abby Manns; Jerseyville;' Kayla Mueller, Freeburg; Shaniah Nunn, Belleville West; Ashley Scholer, O'Fallon; Jayla Stubblefield, O'Fallon; Alaira Tyus, Civic Memorial; Kourtland Tyus, Civic Memorial