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Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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College Soccer

Marvelous Martinez has unbeaten SPU women in Final Four

Special to The Seattle Times

Small-school wonder. Big-time player.

Sarah Martinez, a sophomore forward at Seattle Pacific, was coveted by many NCAA Division I women's soccer programs as a senior in 2004 at then Class B Cedar Park Christian High School in Bothell.

Martinez could have gone anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Martinez chose SPU and she's glad she did, playing a dynamic role and getting to further test her talents on the big stage in the upcoming NCAA Division II Final Four.

She could have chosen soccer power Portland or Washington. But she felt at home with coach Chuck Sekyra, so she opted for small-school Seattle Pacific.

"She was just so creative, so smart and had a such a mature game when she was in high school," said third-year SPU coach Sekyra, who made Martinez his first big-time recruit. "She saw things on the field, where I'd say, 'Man, I can't believe she makes those decisions and sees that.'

"I knew her game would be sophisticated when she first got to college. She would see things two or three passes ahead. She was a kid I really wanted to coach."

Thanks to a healthy Martinez, who has 16 goals and five assists this season, second-ranked SPU is the only unbeaten team left among the four Division II teams still playing.

Sekyra has the fledgling fifth-year program in new territory.

"I chose SPU, because I really liked Chuck and liked the way he coached," said Martinez, whose older sister, Nicole, played at UW from 2000 through 2003. Sekyra was an assistant at UW from 2000 through 2002. "He's the type of guy I wanted to play for. He was honest and didn't put on a front."

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Seattle Pacific (19-0-4) faces No. 23 Carson-Newman of Tennessee (17-4-0) in the school's first trip to the semifinals at 3 p.m. Thursday on the campus of Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Should the Falcons beat Carson-Newman, they would play the winner of No. 4 Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire (19-1-2) vs. No. 7 Nebraska-Omaha (18-2-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday for the school's first national championship in women's soccer.

The 5-foot-6 Martinez missed four games and was in and out of the lineup as a freshman, scoring eight goals and contributing one assist. Now healthy, she has turned up her game.

"I call her my X-factor," said Sekyra, who has guided the Falcons to the school's first three NCAA tournaments. "I can't take her off the field, because I never know when she's going to score. She can do anything with the ball.

"She can score from any angle or any distance. I don't know that Sarah has a physical weakness."

Martinez was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference player of the year and is a virtual lock for All-American honors. She has put together a stretch of eight goals in eight matches heading into the Final Four.

Last season, she tallied seven goals in seven matches before a nagging knee injury slowed her down.

"Sarah came to SPU as an OK student, and she has flourished as a student," Sekyra said. "Last spring, I think she had a 3.5 or 3.6 GPA. I think she's found herself in every way at SPU, as a student and a player.

"For a sophomore, she's a real leader for us. She's living up to her potential in many ways."

In two seasons, she has learned to cut herself some slack for making mistakes.

"I'm definitely a perfectionist when it comes down to soccer, so last year I would get frustrated at myself when I lost the ball," said Martinez, who was a starter at Class 4A Redmond High School as a freshman and a sophomore before transferring to the much-smaller Cedar Park. "I'd get down on myself. Last year, I'd get frustrated and stop playing. I'd lose the ball and put my head down.

"Chuck kept calling me out on it. Now it is more of, 'OK, I can get the ball back' this year. It's OK to make mistakes. As a forward, you need to be aggressive and take risks."

Martinez didn't want to risk missing her senior year at Cedar Park, so she ended up living most of the year by herself in an apartment in Bothell. Her mother, Joanne Nutley, and Martinez's stepdad, Byron Nutley, moved to Singapore for a business opportunity with Microsoft.

That meant Martinez and her older brother, Bryan, would live together in the apartment. But Bryan, a member of the U.S. Army, was deployed to Iraq earlier than expected, just before Christmas 2003.

Martinez's family will mostly be present when she plays in the Final Four. Her mom, stepdad and her stepsister, 5-year-old Kirstin Nutley, will fly to Austin, Texas, to visit her brother, Bryan, before making the five-hour drive to Wichita Falls for the Final Four.

Notes

• SPU senior midfielder Shannon Lovejoy, a 2002 graduate of Seattle Prep, became just the second player in the program's history to be named first-team All-GNAC for four seasons. Lovejoy was an All-American as a sophomore and junior and could be again when the honors are announced this week.

• Thursday's semifinal will be webcast on the school's Web site at www.spu.edu/falconsonline.

• Saturday's NCAA Division II championship will be broadcast live on College Sports Television (CSTV) on local cable.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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