PILOT MOUNTAIN — It would be easy to imagine Abigail Martin leaping high into the air for volleyball kills or layups on a basketball court. The East Surry standout student-athlete could probably excel at any sport she set her mind to.
But the Lady Cardinals’ spikers and hoopsters just weren’t her style. Martin’s game involved rackets and fluorescent yellow balls, and no one in the area did it better in her senior season.
Martin announced her college decision on Friday evening, signing with Bluefield College to continue an outstanding tennis career that started six years ago, when she first saw tennis players doing preseason workouts in middle school.
“I started playing in seventh grade,” Martin recalled. “I saw the tennis team out there and just said ‘I’m going to go for it.’ I didn’t know anyone on the tennis team, but I had enough courage to gut it up and try out for tennis.”
Martin, whose only experience with competitive sports had been in soccer, ended up making the team. She lost her first match in middle school, but picked up the game quickly after that.
“Right when I picked up tennis, I knew I really wanted to pursue this,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to score when I played my first match in seventh grade. But I knew I loved it. That first match was the only one I lost; I just kept getting better and better. I went undefeated the rest of the season…as soon as I learned to keep score, of course!”
In the years that followed, as Martin amassed All-Conference, All-Region and All-State honors and enjoyed unbeaten regular seasons in singles as a junior and senior, her opponents wished she had never learned.
Having been a standout on one of the top teams in state’s 1A ranks for years, Martin drew interest from many of the area’s small colleges and universities. She had already let it be known she wanted to play at the next level, and among those who came calling were Pfeiffer, Salem, Piedmont International, and Lees-McRae. However, the Lady Rams, who compete in the NAIA’s Division II level in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, offer a bit higher level of competition, and Martin wanted to challenge herself.
“I really wanted the opportunity to go (Division II),” she said. “I really wanted to experience that. I also felt like I fit in the best there.”
Bluefield head coach Kevin Bowers, whose team struggled in the 2018-19 season and even had to cancel some matches, made the trip down from Virginia to attend Martin’s signing.
Martin’s final two seasons in Cardinal red were two of the best tennis seasons in East Surry history. Her sophomore year was a sign of things to come, when a young Lady Cardinal team made the state playoffs as a wild-card team despite finishing third in the conference. East fell to Mount Airy in the regional semifinals, but it was close, and the Lady Bears had several seniors.
“We’d just kept building up,” Martin said. “My freshman year, we were just hoping to make dual-teams.”
In 2017, the Lady Cardinals had every reason to believe it was their year, but they had to overcome a lot of adversity. The team endured two coaching changes during the regular season, with AD Randy Marion serving as interim coach for a time before former East men’s coach Lyndsey Haywood took over for the rest of the season. East Surry and Bishop McGuinness tied for the regular-season conference crown, but played a third match for the automatic playoff berth and the Lady Cards won it. They went all the way to the 1A state championship match before falling to undefeated Raleigh Charter in the finals at Burlington Tennis Center.
“I never thought that would happen,” said Martin of the team’s coaching drama that season. “Three coaches was definitely something else, but we were glad they stepped in. Randy Marion was really busy at the time, but he stepped in and helped us.”
Martin went undefeated in dual-team matches from her No. 2 singles position and also won the NW1A singles tournament title that season.
In Martin’s senior year, she moved up to No. 1 in the singles lineup and was again undefeated in the regular season, only losing a set twice. Bishop McGuinness managed to ease past East Surry in two close matches to win the conference title, but Martin’s perfect season meant she was the 2018 NW1A Player of the Year.
In her final conference tournament, Martin decided to enter for doubles. She and junior Sarah Mann had lost just once all season at No. 1 doubles. They won the conference title, and over the next two weeks, the doubles team of “M&M” and the Lady Cardinals as a whole marched deep into the playoffs.
“I considering doing singles again, since I had been the conference champ the year before, but Sarah and I had done so well during the regular season,” she said. “We had so much confidence in each other, and it really helped us.”
East Surry’s quest for a return to Burlington ended in the West Regional final, where Pine Lake Prep beat them and became the latest Western team to fall to the Raleigh Charter juggernaut. But M&M won the West Regional doubles title and went to states in Cary, where they made it all the way to the state championship match before settling for silver.
“I’ll always remember going to state this year. It had always been my goal,” she said. “Going to state was something that everyone wanted to accomplish. In my junior year, I went with the team, which was really amazing, and this year I wanted to play with Sarah.
“We accomplished so much. We were conference champs, regional champs and finally state runner-up.”
Mann, who will likely be the Lady Cards’ No. 1 player this fall, is also regarded as a college prospect, and mom Tonya Martin teased her at the signing when she joined Abigail and her teammates for a photo, telling her that she’d better get used to college signings, since it will be her turn next year.
Martin and Mann went on to play several Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) tournaments for teaching pro George Kriek during the off-season, and Martin said she wouldn’t mind if her doubles partner decided to come to Bluefield when her time comes, too.
Either way, Martin is excited about her future and will also be keeping a close eye on the Lady Cards, where her sister Tara will be joining the team as a freshman this fall.
“It’s going to be a great experience and I look forward to it,” Abigail said of heading off to Bluefield, where she will major in business with a minor in sports marketing. “My sister is coming up next year. The Martin era is definitely not over, and East Surry is going to keep on building.”
Abigail Martin (center) wound down her stellar tennis career at East Surry on Friday afternoon by signing with Bluefield College’s women’s tennis team. Martin is joined by (front row) parents Andrew and Tonya Martin; (back row) ESHS athletics director Randy Marion, sister Tara Martin, Bluefield College head coach Kevin Bowers, and East Surry Principal Jared Jones.
Abigail Martin is joined by four of her teammates on the 2018 Lady Cardinals during her signing ceremony on Friday afternoon.
The Lady Cardinals’ Abigail Martin was undefeated in dual-team singles matches in 2017 and 2018, won the 2017 conference singles title, the 2018 conference and regional doubles crown, and was part of the state runner-up women’s tennis team in 2017 and its state-runner-up doubles team in 2018.