Entering this season, Julia Martinez was ready to take the next step.
As a freshman, Martinez averaged just 11.4 minutes per game at Saint Louis University, but the former Loyola Academy basketball star showed promise and knew she would have a larger role her sophomore year.
The point guard’s breakout game came in a win over Bradley in the Billikens’ second game of the season. Martinez totaled 17 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in the 69-54 victory on Dec. 6.
The best performance of her collegiate career gave Martinez a huge confidence boost.
“Last year I wasn’t much of a scoring threat,” Martinez said. “This year, I just had a different mentality. I really wanted to put my game on another level. I really wanted to be a different Julia out there than I was last year.”
Martinez didn’t get to build off that Bradley game right away.
The Billikens postponed the next nine games on the schedule because of positive COVID-19 tests within the program. The team went into a two-week quarantine on two separate occasions and didn’t play for over a month.
The long hiatus was especially frustrating for Martinez, who had become a starter and was eager to continue making progress.
More than anything, she wants to help the Billikens compete for an Atlantic-10 championship.
“It was tough. I had a good game and I wanted to continue it,” Martinez said. “It definitely does get hard; you’re out for 14 days and you just want to play. I think as a whole team we just really know what we want and what we’re working for. … All of us having each others’ backs makes it a lot easier to stay in shape and continue working on our skills while being in quarantine.”
Early on in her Ramblers career, it was apparent Martinez had what it took to compete collegiately. She set program records in career assists (767) and rebounds (793) while helping Loyola win three straight regional titles.
She was a McDonald’s All-America nominee and a three-time Illinois Basketball Coaches All-State selection.
Ramblers coach Jeremy Schoenecker said the way Martinez sees the floor and pulls down rebounds is better than any girl he’s seen at the high school level.
“She has such a great knack of seeing things before they occur,” Schoenecker said. “That was the one thing you knew she was going to be able to excel at at the next level because of the little things that coaches appreciate.”
Martinez excels as a playmaker, but she has focused on making her jumpshot more consistent this year.
That hard work showed against Bradley, when Martinez hit two 3-pointers and five free throws.
She didn’t fall behind during the quarantine, either. Schoenecker said Martinez is a true “gym rat” who texted him once she returned from campus to try and find an open gym.
“I’m sure when she was home here she was able to find some places to get workouts in,” Schoenecker said. “That’s just who she is. She definitely loves the game of basketball. She’s a student of the game.”
In the Billikens’ first game back on Jan. 17, Martinez contributed 5 rebounds and 4 assists in a loss to Fordham. It wasn’t the result Martinez or her team wanted, but she was happy to be back on the court.
Despite the extended time off, there are still plenty of chances for Martinez to prove the Bradley game was just the beginning of a breakout year. That and the opportunity to compete for a conference title has Martinez thrilled to get back into the swing of things.
“I’m so excited,” Martinez said. “We’ve been working so hard in the preseason and even when we’re in quarantine, we’ve been putting in work. Now we just want to actually play and have that hard work pay off and show on the court. I think we’re definitely one of the best teams in our conference and we want to go out and show that.”
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Nick Frazier is a freelance writer primarily covering high school sports. He most recently was the sports editor of The Highland Park Landmark and The Lake Forest Leader. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @nikfraz14