The small gym at Everett Alvarez (Salinas, Calif.) is relatively quiet, save for the rhythmic heavy breathing and light sound of wrestlers falling and impacting padded mats.
In the far side of the practice mats, most of the Eagles’ girls wrestlers are training, including junior Melanie Martinez. She wrestles in the 170-pound class, home to some of the toughest competitors in Salinas.
Martinez went from finishing outside the top six in the Central Coast Section (CCS) tournament last year to receiving the no. 1 seed to this weekend’s championship. The improvement isn’t surprising, as her father Martin is the Eagles’ coach and both of her brothers were standout wrestlers.
It also doesn’t hurt to have some Olympic blood, too — she’s the niece of Olympic weightlifter and Salinas Valley legend Mario Martinez and the latest in the family to make her mark in athletics.
A new arena
Melanie didn’t take to the mat as quickly as her older brothers Matt and Martin Jr. Her first sport was softball and the junior started out on the diamond sporting a helmet at first base.
By the time high school rolled around, she decided to give wrestling a try, too. Seeing as it’s a winter sport, it wouldn’t conflict with her availability for her first sport and would be great for improving power and conditioning.
Regardless of the results this winter, she’ll be back on base come spring.
“I’ll be playing again this year,” she said.
She’ll be joining a solid team, too — the Eagles are fresh off a league co-championship in 2018 and return key starters like team hit leader Aaliyah Robles and lead pitcher Stephanie Vasquez.
That season hasn’t begun and, in the meantime, she’ll be continuing what’s become a family tradition.
The dynastic family
Anyone who’s followed Salinas Valley sports for the past few decades recognizes the Martinez name. The late Mario Martinez, Eagles coach Martin’s brother and Melanie’s uncle, was the last U.S. weightlifter to medal in the Olympics. He earned silver in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the country’s yet to find another great weightlifter.
Growing up in a family with an Olympian can be tough but Mario was supportive of all of Martin’s kids and their athletic endeavors.
His success reminded the kids to focus on what they could achieve, Melanie said. Her uncle would offer advice when asked and support when needed.
“His interest was huge up until the day before he passed away,” Martin said. “My mom said to call and check on (Mario). I’m trying to talk him to going to see the doctor but he wants to talk about wrestling and the plan for the kids.”
He had a lot to hear. Matt was in the midst of his three Central Coast Section (CCS) titles at the time. Now, he’s taken to the mat for the no. 1 junior college wrestling team in the state: Fresno City.
The Rams have won back-to-back state titles and Matt was a reliable contributor at 197 pounds in his first season.
This year, Melanie’s given the family another potential title-winner on the mat. But it wasn’t a guarantee coming into her third high school season.