In observance of Women’s History Month, The Daily launches a series aimed at telling the stories of female athletes, coaches and teams at the University from the perspective of the female sports writers on staff. Daily sports writer Jodi Yip continues the series with this story.
Competing on the same collegiate soccer team has been an amazing journey for siblings Alia and Reilly Martin.
The Martin sisters’ story began when Reilly was five years old and Alia was three. Their mother had just signed Reilly up for a league called Little Kicker and asked the coach whether her other daughter — who was two years younger — could also participate. The coach gave a response that ultimately lead the Martins to where they are today.
“If she can stand in line and not throw a tantrum, then (Alia) is welcome to join.”
Fast forward 16 years. The Martin sisters are back at it again and competing on the same team. This time, however, is different. Instead of lining up without crying as their sole responsibility, they are now competing for championships and public recognition.
This year, Michigan was formally introduced to Alia and Reilly Martin — the blood-related superstars hailing from Carmel, Indiana, the sisters who bleed maize and blue.
Reilly is currently a junior enrolled in the School of Kinesiology majoring in psychology. The list of accolades is extensive. She’s been awarded Big Ten All-Freshman Team (2015), All-Big Ten second team (2016), All-Big Ten third team (2017) honors.
Reilly’s counterpart, Alia, is a freshman in LSA. When Alia was in high school, she was ranked No. 36 overall and the No. 14 midfielder in the Class of 2017 by Top Drawer Soccer. She was also named Gatorade Indiana Girls Soccer Player of the Year in 2015.
In high school, the Martins did not give much thought about playing on the same collegiate team. When Alia was being scouted by colleges, Reilly was already committed to Michigan. Though family was a big factor in her decision, Alia did not allow her sister’s soccer career to determine where she would play for the next four years.
“You don’t only look at what other people are influencing you to do,” said Alia. “You look at what you want to do as well. This school, in general, is a great school. Nobody wants to think this way but if you were to get injured, where would you still want to be if you couldn’t play?”
It is not a shocker that both sisters chose the Wolverines. Michigan’s academic reputation coupled with the competitive atmosphere and the overall feel of the women’s soccer team convinced both Reilly and Alia that Wolverines were the perfect match.
When asked about their experience of going to the same school, Alia laughed about their lack of contact during a regular school day.
“We have this joke that we don’t see each other so much,” Alia said. “We train at different places. (Reilly) would train as a forward and I would train as a defender. We would be split up with two different coaches. We really would not see each other too frequently in the day.”
But when it comes to playing together on the same field, their chemistry is unmatchable.
“We have this connection on the field,” Alia said. “I would always look for her as she would with me. I am very familiar with her style, and we play to those strengths because we are familiar with each other.”
Occasionally, there are times of miscommunication and frustration on the field, but there is no “bad blood” mixed in the Martin family line. Instead of competing against each other, the sisters are constantly pushing each other to improve together.
“It’s always the next thing, what can we do from here,” Reilly said. “We’ve really grown to be the best we can be.”
While the Martin sisters have grown as individuals and improved athletically, they believe the women’s soccer team still has a long way to go.
The program has been running since 1994, but the average attendance of a home game plateaus at around 860. On the other hand, the men’s soccer team regularly welcomes large crowds including a sellout crowd of 2,637 at its matchup with Michigan State.
It is a common subconscious decision for people to root for men’s sports over women’s sports. Though Michigan provides student athletes with the same opportunities — including weight rooms, training rooms and athletic staff members — the women’s teams are underrepresented in media and public support.
“It gets frustrating,” Reilly said. “You do what you can on the field, you put in the work and you hope to get recognized for whatever you are doing.
“You put in as much time as the men’s team, you train as hard and you focus just as much.”
The Martin sisters have seen first-hand the lack of recognition female athletes receive. But Reilly is passionate about change through self-improvement.
“One of my big things is that you don’t settle to be disrespected if someone treats you differently because you are a woman athlete,” Reilly said. “As a team, we do a good job to push ourselves to expect the same standards as a male player. You need to focus on what is in your control.”
Both the Martins were highly recruited in high school to play at prestigious colleges, but the sisters are still relatively unknown, proving that the perception of women’s sports as equal to men’s is a work in progress.
But there seems to be a glimmer of hope for Wolverine sports. Earlier this month, Jennifer Klein was named the new head coach of the women’s soccer program replacing Greg Ryan. A new female voice can bring about the change in leadership that Michigan soccer has so greatly sought after.
“The new transition has to do with taking what people say into consideration and not blowing it off,” Reilly said. “What Michigan stands for is respecting women’s athletes and voices.”
It will be a slow and gradual process to change the perception of women in sports and recognize they possess the same competition and athletic capabilities as men in sports.
But recognized or not, the Martins’ list of accomplishments keeps growing. Gender equality in sports has yet to come, but hopefully the Martin sisters will be around the experience it.