Coming off the first 4-0 start in the history of the field hockey program, sophomore Canadian import Belen Martinez is a driving force behind the team’s success.
Martinez is a sweeper for the Red — “the anchor position on defense” for head coach Donna Hornibrook’s surging team (4-1, 2-0 Ivy).
“I’m the last man back, so I have a perfect vision of the whole field,” Martinez said.
Though Martinez possesses technical skill, maturity and confidence, Hornibrook is most impressed with Martinez’s intensity.
“When she wins the ball, she really gets the attack going,” Hornibrook said. “She’s a dangerous player, and really a key player for us.”
Assistant coach Josette Babineau was the first Cornell coach to scout Martinez. As coach of the Saskatchewan U-18 National Team, Babineau knew of the Winnipeg phenom from Martinez’s playing days on Manitoba’s U-18 National Team. However, it wasn’t until two years ago that she interacted with her face-to-face. When Manitoba did not send a team to nationals in 2003, Martinez was permitted to play for Saskatchewan instead.
“We picked her up for that tournament,” Babineau said. “That was my first opportunity to have her on our side. [Martinez] brings that all-or-nothing attitude to the field.”
Though Martinez was recruited by a few Canadian universities, she ended up going to a school that she had never heard of.
“I really didn’t know what Cornell was,” she said.
After her mother compared it to Harvard and Princeton, Martinez realized the prestige of the institution and didn’t think she would meet the rigorous admission standards. Despite her original thoughts, it was Martinez who ended up impressing Babineau with her efforts off the field.
“I’ve had other players in Canada that I haven’t been able to bring in [because of academics],” Babineau said.
Though Martinez feels more like a Canadian, she owes a lot to her Argentinian heritage — she was born and raised in Buenos Aires.
“When I went back to Argentina in grade ten, I realized how much of a home it really is.”
One of the most important effects of this heritage on her life has been her life-long love for field hockey.
“Field hockey is huge [in Argentina] … My whole family plays field hockey,” she said.
[img_assist|nid=18439|title=Super sweeper|desc=Sophomore Belen Martinez (pictured in white) makes a play at midfield in a match against Penn.|link=popup|align=left|width=87|height=100]
Her father, Guillermo Martinez, represented Argentina at the Junior Pan American games at one time. He continued to play on teams, and Silvia Martinez would take her young daughter to his games on the weekend. In fact, Martinez’s parents met through field hockey.
“My dad was my mom’s coach,” she said.
Martinez started playing herself when she was seven years old. She continued to participate in the sport when her family moved to Winnipeg, in the Canadian province of Manitoba, to follow greater job opportunities. When her parents saw an article recruiting people with computer skills, the family moved nine months later.
“My parents wanted a better future for us,” Martinez said.
There are only 16 players on a team in Canada, as opposed to a 24 player structure in American collegiate field hockey. As an incoming freshman, Martinez was taken aback to find that the newest recruiting class alone formed almost an entire Canadian team.
“When I realized we had 14 freshman coming in, I was a little nervous,” Martinez said.
She had nothing to worry about. “Despite the fact that she was a freshman, she made an impact,” Hornibrook said.
With her six goals, Martinez was the team’s third leading scorer last year. In addition, she was awarded second team Regional All-America honors, as well as second team All-Ivy honors. Though she was more proud of the team’s season, Martinez was happy to have made a difference on the field for the Red.
“That’s what I wanted to do —prove to myself that I could play an important role on another team,” she said.
In the summer, Martinez plays for Manitoba’s U-21 National Team. Her team traveled to Vancouver for U-21 nationals this past summer — there she encountered a little piece of Cornell in her home country. Martinez met fellow sophomore Samantha Lyzun of the British Columbia U-21 National Team on the field, this time as an opponent.
“I got to play against her. That was fun — knowing somebody there … someone who was a friend,” Martinez said.
Though Canada has a tradition of elite field hockey play, “[Field hockey’s] not big in Canada at all,” Martinez said.
Martinez hopes to someday make the national team in Canada. “[Field hockey’s] opened so many doors for me. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for field hockey … It teaches you so much more — communication, teamwork, and lifelong friendship.”
Despite tight friendships with teammates, Martinez has been separated from the people with whom she is closest — her family.
“My parents don’t make it to the games every weekend,” Martinez said.
However, she is looking forward to having a family member on campus. Her brother Sebastian, a high school junior in Winnipeg, hopes to play soccer here.
While she waits to see if her brother will make it to the East Hill, Martinez has found a new family on the field at Cornell.
“[Cornell] feels more like a second home,” she said. “Last year, it was just school.”