Paulina Martinez is seen during practice at Corner Brook Regional High gymnasium Wednesday. — Star photo by Geraldine Brophy
Mexico’s Paulina Tovar Martinez was looking for a safe place to hone her volleyball skills while gaining a better grasp on the English language.
She apparently found what she was looking for at Corner Brook Regional High, and she’s spent the past year immersed in Canadian culture on and off the floor.
The 16-year-old, a Level 1 student, was a dominant force on the court with both the Corner Brook High Titans 4A team and the Titans Under-16 female team at the Eastern Canadian Open Volleyball Championships last weekend in Sherbrooke, Que.
George and Jennifer Dolomount say they’ve watched the native of León, Guanajuato, Mexico do some amazing things on the volleyball court as coaches of the Titans U16 team.
A pleasant personality to go with her strong skillset has made it a pleasure for George to welcome Martinez into a core group of girls that have been playing together for four years now. More importantly, the coaching tandem believes Martinez has elevated the game of her teammates.
“She’s pushed other players who were comfortable because they probably knew they would get a starting role in the big games,” George said.
Volleyball is a sport that students don’t get introduced to until Grade 7 in this area, but in Mexico the game is very popular and youngsters like Martinez start playing in Grade 4.
She says volleyball has pretty much been her life.
The biggest thing on her mind when she arrived here a year ago was her fear of fitting in — both in the academic setting, having to meet new friends, and the daunting task of walking into the gym for the first volleyball tryout not knowing anyone.
“(It’s) like she’s been here for four years,” coach Jennifer said. “It’s hard to come in and fit into that mix and be part of the group, and she’s just like one of them now.”
“I’ve never seen anybody come in from outside and fit in like she has, but now this is a special group of girls in saying that,” coach George added.
The supportive teammates brought a big sigh of relief for Martinez.
“I really like this team because they’re really friendly and I look at them as family because they’re so nice,” she said.
Everything she was told from others who had prior experience or knowledge of the city — such as its hospitality and safety — proved to be true.
“It’s a really good experience,” she added. “It’s amazing coming here; it’s a really different culture. I think it’s safer here and everyone is really friendly.”
The Titans won the 2014 provincial U16 crown for the right to travel to Sherbrooke. Martinez was a force for the championship run as she was named to the tournament all-star team.
The Titans beat Holy Trinity of St. John's in the final to finish with a perfect 6-0 record and 12-0 in sets.
Dolomount believes his team had enough depth to win the provincial crown without her in the line-up, but said it certainly would have been a bigger challenge without her on the floor.
“This was a strong team last year in Grade 9, but she’s helped us go to a new level,” Dolomount said. “She’s just a very talented player all around. Strong in the front row and strong in the back row. She just has great skills.”
No matter what happens this weekend in her final tournament, the newcomer will always smile when she thinks about her experience.
“It’s really exciting trying new things like this experience,” Martinez said, noting her love of snow was something that appealed to her because she got to snowboard for the first time.
But did she really enjoy it enough to contemplate a return visit?
“Oh yes,” she said. “Because of the people and my friends. I have made a lot of memories here.”
She leaves the city June 29 to reunite with her parents, Isabel Martinez and Guillermo Tovar.