Lexi Martins finds the extra gear, fueling Lehigh’s postseason drive

Lehigh forward Lexi Martins averaged a double-double and set a school single-season rebounding record as a sophomore in 2014-15.

Not good enough, said coach Sue Troyan.

Wait … what?

“She wasn’t a very hard worker, and that’s been my biggest challenge with her,” Troyan said. “She didn’t have that extra gear we needed from her.”

Never mind that rebounding is by its very definition hard work, and that Troyan, in her 21st season as the Mountain Hawks’ coach, said she has “never had a kid rebound the ball like (Martins) does.”

She wanted more.

Which was fine with Martins. She expects a great deal of herself, and doesn’t mind when someone asks more of her.

Put simply, she wanted to be coached, not coddled.

“I’m the type of player, I like things to be said to me, and it to be transparent,” she said. “I’ve told coach throughout my career: ‘Please don’t sugarcoat things for me.’”

Sooo … this winter Martins has taken things several steps further. Not only has she set the Patriot League single-season rebounding record (415 and counting), but she leads Division I in per-game average (13.8), having augmented her 14 points with 15 boards in Monday’s 64-48 victory over Holy Cross in a tournament quarterfinal in Bethlehem, Pa.

Martins, recently named first-team all-league, also surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career earlier this season, and is scoring at a team-leading 15.2 point-per-game clip for the Hawks (18-12), who visit Army West Point, the PL Tournament’s top seed, in Friday’s semifinals.

And for good measure the 6-0 junior, a political science major who owns a 3.62 grade-point average, was named the league’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year in her sport. She will graduate in May, one year ahead of schedule, and plans to earn her master’s degree in management while playing out her eligibility next year.

So yeah, she’s driven. And if Troyan wants to drive her that much more, all the better.

“I think our relationship has grown, the more honest she’s been with me,” Martins said.

She played little as a freshman, and wanted to hear more from her coach — “what she was thinking, what she honestly thought.”

“I wanted to know,” Martins said, “what I needed to be doing, to be getting on the floor and help the team win. I think our relationship took a bit of a turn when she opened up and was more honest with what she was seeing and what she really needed from me.”

Martins averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds as a soph, while part of a three-player post rotation. And last summer the Irvington, N.Y., native turned it up a notch, remaining on campus and driving each day to Philadelphia for an internship at Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, then returning each night for workouts.

Long days, she recalled. Up at 5 a.m. Leave the house by 6. Arrive at Merck by 7. Work until 3. Drive back to Lehigh in time to lift from 4 until 6:30, followed by pickup games or on-court drills.

“Then dinner, bed, repeat,” she said.

All that sweating is serving her well now. Her uncanny nose for the ball always has. Deep into Monday’s game, which Lehigh controlled from the outset, she was locked in hand-to-hand combat on the left block as teammate Quinci Mann fired a jumper from the right wing.

The ball spilled off the rim, but Martins somehow materialized on the right baseline to corral the miss, some 15 feet away from where she had been when the shot was launched. And while the possession went for naught, it nonetheless said a great deal about her M.O.

“She just doesn’t stand there and watch,” Troyan said. “Nine out of 10 kids stand there and watch. She really tracks it off the rim, and goes and finds it.”

It matters little that she is not overly tall for a post player, nor a great leaper. She simply wants the ball, so she goes and gets it, which is harder than it sounds. And effort, Martins said, is one of the few things a player can control.

“When you shoot it, sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn’t, regardless of the preparation,” she said. “But if you go in and work hard and get good position, more likely than not you’re going to grab the ball and be able to rebound it.”

It’s just a matter of trying.

And now she is trying harder still. All her coach had to do was ask.

Above: Lexi Martins set the Patriot League single-season rebounding record (415 and counting) and leads Division I in per-game average with 13.8. (Courtesy Lehigh Athletics)

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