Watch her bloom

Grace Martin entered Quinnipiac as a wallflower, but now she’s a full-grown leader

Emily Flamme, News Editor

For Grace Martin, a senior prop on the Quinnipiac University women’s rugby team, the last three years have been about developing her role as a leader on and off the field.

“Her commitment to leadership is just remarkable,” said Becky Carlson, head coach of the women’s rugby team. “I’m always going to have a standard in my head of how leadership can evolve, and it’ll be Grace Martin.”

When Martin joined the program in 2017, she was reserved. Carlson said she was never the first to speak and would always sit back and observe what was going on.

“I was very shy and quiet my freshman year, and I’ve grown into more of a leadership role on the team,” Martin said. “On our team, we try to challenge everybody to be a leader and lead in their own ways.”

Grace Martin breaks through a tackle with the ball in her hand in a 2019 match against Penn State. (Chronicle Archives (2019))

Right now, there are no competitions scheduled for the rugby season in the spring. However, Carlson noted that Martin still tries her hardest during practices.

“When I think of a player in our program, throughout the whole thing, the pandemic and all of the challenges that we had, where you’re like ‘Gosh, what would I give for her to have one more year,’ Grace is that player,” Carlson said.

As a coach, Carlson said she feels bad for her players during the pandemic. For her, it’s a loss of one season, but for the players it’s 25% of their career as a collegiate athlete.

“They go to practice every day and they don’t show how much this hurts, and it takes a lot of resilience,” Carlson said. “Grace being there, even though we have nothing technically that we’re working for this competition and being so on board with it and really getting into it is really what is going to put our team back on top.”

The women’s rugby team won the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) championship in 2017 when Martin was a freshman. The team hasn’t made it to the championship round since, which Martin felt was the most disappointing part about not having a competitive season.

Carlson talked about how Martin used to be anchor on the team, but she sustained an injury during her junior season. A severe foot and ankle sprain sidelined her for two and a half weeks.

“For Grace, her junior year, when she had those injuries, she didn’t really get to shine as much as she probably could have,” Carlson said. “She’s always been a talented player. She’s gotten stronger physically, she’s gotten stronger mentally.”

Practicing this season with COVID-19 restrictions has been a challenge, especially since rugby is a contact sport. Martin said the team has been focusing on strength building and skill work such as footwork and game  strategy.

“It’s definitely a big change, but we’re working through it, we’re adapting,” Martin said. “That’s our biggest focus right now, is being able to adapt to all of these changes.”

Despite losing playing time due to injuries and the pandemic, Martin brought up how she feels her role is to help develop the new talent on the team. Martin thinks the current underclassmen have a lot of potential from what she has seen at practices.

“I’m honestly really impressed, and I’m excited to watch them grow and learn their roles,” Martin said. “Not only grow as athletes, but as individuals because it’s nice since they’re finally starting to come out of their shells and you can hear their voices on the field, and it’s great to see. I’m really confident this team can go far.”

Carlson said that Martin’s leadership has a strong impact on the underclassmen by creating an environment where she and the team can find success.

“She’s just constantly looking at ways to better our communication for the good of the team,” Carlson said. “In the process, it’s been kind of having her sharpen her leadership skills. It has kind of a unilateral benefit, and she doesn’t even realize it. She’s doing all of this stuff for the team, but it has helped her gain so much more self-belief.”

The culture the team has is vital to its success, which is why Martin believes it was so important for her to create a welcoming and safe environment each year for her new teammates.

“I’d say the biggest thing is caring for the people around you goes such a long way and making sure that the people around you know that you care and that you support them,” Martin said. “That’s kind of what we base our team off of — being able to support each other and still having a competitive environment and pushing each other to grow but knowing that at the end of the day, we have each others’ backs.”

Over the last few years, Carlson said that Martin has grown into a strong individual who stepped up when the team needed her.

“There’s been so much self-study that has gone on in the last four years and her being mindful of the team dynamic and how she fits in the team dynamic and how she can help other people fit into the team dynamic — that’s how she’s changed,” Carlson said.