Sports came naturally to Martin. She was a quarterback and linebacker on a tackle football team in elementary school: “I loved the contact on defense,” she said.

Basketball and volleyball came later.

“You could tell by junior high that she had a shot (to play at the major-college level),” Jensen said. “On her AAU team, she looked pretty good.

“I made sure that the rest of the staff was seeing her too, objectively, because of course I loved her. She was a hard-nosed utility player.”

Martin came to Lisa Bluder’s summer camps nearly every summer (bunking at the home of Jensen and Fitzpatrick, of course), and it was common knowledge throughout the family that if Iowa offered a scholarship, Martin most likely would accept.

“Dad would be honest with other coaches, telling them that if Iowa offered, it was going to be a tough race,” Martin said.

That offer came in the spring of Martin’s junior year at Edwardsville. Martin committed a few months later.

Kate Martin (20) is introduced Dec. 30 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Minnesota. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette) Kate Martin (20) is introduced Dec. 30 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Minnesota. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Her first year on the court at Iowa should have coincided with Megan Gustafson’s final season, the Hawkeyes’ Elite Eight year of 2018-19.

Instead, she tore her ACL at an all-star-game practice, three days before her first practice in Iowa City, and was forced to red-shirt.

“I got a steal and made a step-through move, got hit a little and I felt my knee go out,” she said. “I was so scared.”

In retrospect, Martin said, “It was one of the best things that could happen. An injury can humble a person pretty quick. It taught me how to be a good teammate. I learned the offense, learned the system and got stronger.”

The seeds of leadership were being planted.

Still slowed by her knee, Martin played in 24 games as a red-shirt freshman in 2019-20. So it came as a surprise to the outside world at media day in 2020, as a red-shirt sophomore, that she has been elected as a co-captain.

“The coaches, the team, they saw that leadership in her early,” Jensen said. “She has their respect. It’s been cool to watch it unfold.

“Like I tell my kids, hard work doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does give you a better opportunity. She kept at it, and her role kept getting better and bigger.”

Iowa guard Kate Martin (20) is met with hugs on the bench Nov. 19 against Drake. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)Iowa guard Kate Martin (20) is met with hugs on the bench Nov. 19 against Drake. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

The 2023 national player of the year, Clark has been the program’s superstar since the day she arrived on campus. But she understands, and doesn’t understate, Martin’s value.

“She’s one of those people you can lean on,” Clark said. “She does a lot of dirty work, a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet or in a news article.

“We’re wired the same. We’ll go at each other in practice, all in good fun, maybe gets a little serious sometimes. She’s one of those people, we’ll step off the floor and we’re going to hug and be best friends.”

For her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, Martin was good for 7 points and 4 rebounds per game. Her shooting percentage climbed steadily.

Because of the NCAA’s 2020 COVID-based waiver, four Iowa seniors — Martin, Gabbie Marshall, Molly Davis and McKenna Warnock — were eligible to return for a fifth (and in Martin’s case, sixth) season.

With the exception of Warnock, all elected for one more go-around.

“I decided I didn’t want to be done,” Martin said. “It’s the pinnacle of women’s basketball right now, and I thought I would push off adulting, get my master’s (degree) and go one more year.”

On the heels of last year’s NCAA runner-up finish, the deepest run in Iowa history, this season’s squad is 14-1 (3-0 in the Big Ten) and ranked No. 4 in the nation heading into Friday’s game at Rutgers.

Martin’s offensive numbers — 11.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, 54.1 percent from the field, 87.9 percent from the free-throw line — all are career highs.

Those uncommon intangibles, those haven’t suffered either.

“Every challenge, she has met it, and it changes game by game,” Jensen said. “She’s going to be a dog, and she’s going to defend the best player.

“If she leaves practice for a minute or two to go to the bathroom, you can tell the mood changes, it gets so much more quiet. She cares so much, sometimes we have to monitor her (fatigue) level.”

Jensen shared a story of Martin’s earlier days with the program.

“There was a Hawk Alert, maybe a suspicious package downtown,” Jensen said, recalling the story. “It was at 1:15 a.m., and she was on her phone, checking in with everybody … ‘Everybody good?’

“That is next level. But it’s just something she does instinctively.”

Kate Martin (20) encourages teammate Hannah Stuelke (45) Nov. 6 against Fairleigh Dickinson. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)Kate Martin (20) encourages teammate Hannah Stuelke (45) Nov. 6 against Fairleigh Dickinson. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

Martin is a WNBA long shot (though what team at any level couldn’t use a little more glue?), but there will be opportunities to continue her playing career overseas. If she wants.

Those around her consider her a home-run hire as a coach.

“She’ll be a natural,” her father said. “This is a biased statement, but she’s a culture builder, a program changer.”

“She’ll be phenomenal,” Jensen said. “She’s going to have a long, successful career as a coach. She could make that transition tomorrow.”

Tomorrow, that’s down the road.

Today, she’s having too much fun. Making noise. Making connections. Making memories.

“I’m so grateful, the memories and friends I’ve made here,” Martin said.

“I’m going to look back someday, that these were the best times of my life.”

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