Gene Martin’s 2019 season nearly ended before it ever really got started.
With the season only about a week old, the Moorestown senior goalie was in net during practice when a shot from teammate Ben Cantwell slammed into his left thumb. Martin felt the pain right away and went home to ice his thumb, hoping it wasn’t broken. Later in the week, a couple of x-rays confirmed the worst.
“(Urgent care) said it was broken in one spot,” Martin said. “Then, we went to a doctor and he said it was broken in three spots. He said there’s no chance I was playing the rest of the season.”
About two months later, Martin was in the crease on one of the biggest stages, making a number of big saves to help the Quakers to a 9-6 win in the NJSIAA Group 3 state final against Chatham. After a second opinion from a doctor allowed Martin to play the second half of the season with a hard cast on his thumb, he performed at a high level, stopping 33 of the 44 shots he faced in the Quakers’ four playoff wins, including a 10-save performance in the state championship game.
Martin’s selection as South Jersey Sports Weekly’s Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year goes well beyond his performance on the field, however. As well as Martin played during the biggest games of the year for Moorestown, his performance as a leader on the sidelines in April was just as crucial to the team’s success.
“I really think it was beneficial now that I went through it,” Martin said of being sidelined for the season’s first half. “From being on the field the last two years, you learn how to position the players on the field and lead the players on the team. But on the sideline, there’s a whole different side of making sure the sideline is into the game and you, yourself, are into the game. Everything else comes and clicks together.”
Martin has been the Quakers’ leader on the defensive side since taking over as the starter full-time in 2018. After realizing he’d be out for nearly a month while his injury healed this year, Martin spoke with his coaches and realized he could still play the role of team leader from the sideline.
“Anytime we came into a huddle, giving a talk or saying things I see on the sideline can be even more beneficial,” Martin said. “You can learn a lot about the game from just watching. Instead of just controlling the defense, I’m watching how the defense works from the outside.”
Martin also became a mentor to backup goalie Jack Avis. Martin knew what it was like to be a backup goalie thrust into the spotlight. During his sophomore year, he got his first action as a varsity player due to an injury to the starter at the time, Liam Peck.
“It was the same exact situation,” Martin said. “I knew how Liam treated me and how that helped my success and how it helped me be more confident and more comfortable in the cage. That’s something I wanted to do for Jack.”
After Avis filled in for about a month, Martin returned to the lineup for Moorestown’s May 2 game with Ridge. He played with a hard cast on his thumb, meaning he couldn’t hold his stick the way he normally did. Despite this, Martin said he was able to make adjustments with his grip.
Martin peaked just as the regular season ended for the Quakers. In his final six games, Martin made 10 or more saves three times. Two of those games came in the postseason, with the first coming in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals against Clearview where Martin stopped 12 shots while allowing just three goals. The second big performance came in the NJSIAA Group 3 state championship. Martin stopped 10 of 16 shots and helped the Quakers maintain a multi-goal lead late to win the game, 9-6, and take home the title.
“Our goal was always that Group 3 state championship game and winning that my senior year,” Martin said of the state championship game. “Knowing I was leaving here with that accomplishment was big for me.”
Martin was thrilled to hear the news about being South Jersey Sports Weekly’s boys Lacrosse Player of the Year, but he doesn’t see it as an individual accolade. A team player until the end, Martin is sharing the honor with his defense, saying their ability at reducing the number of offensive chances from the opposition and limiting shots up close were a significant part of his success at Moorestown.
“This award to me is an award for the defense,” Martin said. “It’s not just me, it’s the whole defense that helps me out.”