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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Kennedy Martin’s success fueled by support from family, teammates

Martin finished her freshman season with 492 kills

Freshman outside hitter Kennedy Martin tips the ball in the Gators' 3-0 win against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.
Freshman outside hitter Kennedy Martin tips the ball in the Gators' 3-0 win against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.

Freshman outside hitter Kennedy Martin strutted in orange and blue as she ran out onto the court for the Gators’ first home match of the season Sept. 3, 2023, against the then-No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The 6-foot-6 freshman stepped out into the Stephen C. O'Connell Center with a loud and excited crowd ready to see its then-No. 8 Gators make an upset. While Martin no doubt felt the presence of Gator nation, she also felt the support from her parents, who cheered her on in the stands. 

Martin's fired-up momentum sparked a run for the Gators on offense. Her aggressive desire to win showed out as she left everything on the court and fought hard to win the game. Martin sealed the victory in set one with three launched kills, one being match point. 

Her ability to escape the ball across the court brought Florida back into the game in set three, when she sealed back-to-back kills to help her team close out the game in a three-set sweep. 

As the crowd in the O'Dome rose to its feet and the Gators jumped and hugged each other with huge smiles, Martin's performance led to a continued season of historic moments. 

Martin excelled in the regular season roster easily, but it was when the volleyball team was struck by season-ending injuries that Martin’s talents stood out. 

Martin went on to have a standout freshman season despite injuries plaguing stars on the roster. She became the first Florida volleyball freshman to earn an SEC Honor in each of their first three weeks in the program. 

She earned the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Division 1 Player of the Week honors in the first week of her collegiate career, Aug. 29, 2023. 

"In the back of my head, I was like, ‘Oh no, there's some expectations on me now,’” Martin said. “I started off pretty high, and there is a lot of the season left. This is only the first week." 

One of her best offensive performances was against the Tennessee Lady Volunteers Nov. 3, 2023, when she recorded 28 kills, contributing to her overall season total of 492. 

However, it was her teammates and the upperclassmen who guided her throughout the year. The injuries Martin and her team endured left them with a hole of diversity to pile through.

"I spent a lot of time with the upperclassmen throughout the season, [and] they were very welcoming coming in because I came in January," Martin said. "I got pretty close with them, so any time I had questions or [I] hit walls and sometimes saw some obstacles, they helped me navigate [those moments]."

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The first test occurred when sophomore All-American setter Alexis Stucky fell to the floor off of a block. Stucky suffered a knee injury and tore her ACL and MCL against the then-No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers. 

Just a few weeks later, outside hitter freshman Kira Hutson endured a shoulder injury, and graduate student Anna Dixon encountered an injury to both her elbow and wrist that forced them to remain out for the 2023 season. 

“It was definitely tough, but we were provided with the resources to get through it,” Martin said. 

If the girls on the team needed some space they had a sports psychologist on staff, Dr. Jenny Susser, whom they could talk to. Martin spoke with Susser before some of the more difficult games, she said.

Martin used her resources to help her persevere through the hardships of losing players early in the season. Martin said leaning on her teammates throughout the remainder of the season helped her navigate the adversity.

The outside hitter’s teammates guided her through her journey in her first year. But her father, Ruvell Martin, a former professional athlete, worked to help set her mind apart when focusing on the mental side of the game. 

Ruvell Martin is a former NFL wide receiver and the Green Bay Packers' wide receivers coach. With his experience competing at a high level, he helped Martin particularly with her mental health.

"He has been able to help me a lot on the mental side of sports because that is something that I think sets him apart from other athletes," Martin said. “In the professional league, he always thought of himself and told me to think of myself as a person not defined by my sport."

Martin started playing volleyball in third grade. She fell in love with the game and the supportive community on both sides of the net, she said. 

One of Martin’s biggest takeaways from her father is her personal confidence in volleyball despite game outcomes. She’s her own person who is good at the sport, and she strives to get better every day, she said.  

Additionally, Martin’s parents pushed her to prioritize being the best teammate on and off the court. 

In her first year, Martin looked up to teammate Anna Dixon, who became one of her mentors throughout the season, she said. 

"Kennedy was not only starting as a freshman but carrying a heavy load offensively,” Dixon said. “I tried to remind her to take every moment as a learning opportunity when she feels the pressure of performance rise and to give herself grace in those learning moments.” 

As a freshman starter, the pressure can be overwhelming at times, and it can be difficult to try to keep your head up with multiple expectations, but she carries herself maturely both on and off the court, Dixon said. 

Martin has worked hard to be a better person and better player throughout her time at UF, she said. She knew all the programs believed in her in the recruiting process, but Florida head coach Mary Wise and the staff made the process feel more like home. 

"Kennedy first came to one of our clinics years ago [in eighth grade],” Wise said. “[We could tell] she's going to make opponents' [lives] tough in terms of how high she gets the ball and what her blocking will do to disrupt the other teams’ offense." 

Martin and the team made it into the second round of the NCAA tournament after beating Florida Gulf Coast but then fell 3-2 to Georgia Tech to close out their appearance. 

“We knew that we were different and we had some setbacks that we couldn't control,” Martin said. “We're just going to prove to everybody that we were different and are different. Hopefully, finish a lot farther in the tournament.”

Contact Alyssa Britton-Harr at Follow her on X @abrittonharr.

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Alyssa Britton-Harr

Alyssa Britton-Harr is a second-year journalism major and a sports reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys cheering on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spending time with her friends. 

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