Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Sports Person of the Week

Martone Happy to Coach His Hometown Hornets


Branford graduate Mike Martone, Jr., is in his first season as head coach of the Hornets’ varsity girls’ volleyball squad. Branford is off to a 5-1 start to the season with Mike on the sidelines. Photo courtesy of Mike Martone, Jr.

Branford graduate Mike Martone, Jr., is in his first season as head coach of the Hornets’ varsity girls’ volleyball squad. Branford is off to a 5-1 start to the season with Mike on the sidelines. (Photo courtesy of Mike Martone, Jr.)

After serving as the JV coach last year Mike Martone, Jr., was named the new head coach of the Branford varsity girls’ volleyball team for the 2021 season. Mike, a 2001 Branford graduate who is the music director at the high school, feels excited about coaching in his hometown and is hoping to guide the Hornets to new heights.

“It’s huge for me. I’m a big school spirit and alumni person. It means a lot to be teaching in my hometown and now coaching in my hometown,” says Mike. “I’m very much a homegrown person.”

Volleyball was a big family tradition for Mike while growing up. Mike was always playing volleyball during holidays and family get-togethers. Those early experiences with his family helped Mike get more invested in the sport.

“My family—every holiday, every summer thing, we would always play. My aunts and my mom all played for North Branford High School and won a championship there,” Mike says. “It’s a big family sport for us. I just got super into the technical component of it. I think it’s a really great game.”

Mike played for the Hornets’ boys’ volleyball team when he was a student at Branford. On the court, he saw the sport from a setter’s perspective. However, even when he was on the bench, Mike was constantly learning more and more about volleyball.

“Watching some of these people who can really jump or really hit, you learn about the game and what makes it so important,” says Mike. “I did spend a lot of time on the bench in high school. I watched the game and learned a lot just sitting there and watching it up close.”

When Mike was competing, the notion of becoming a coach was always in his mind. Mike says that he has always been a leader, and he feels that leadership helped him transition nicely into the coaching game.

“I would coach ping-pong if I could. It’s one of the things that make me who I am,” Mike says. “I’ve always been a student leader. I started student groups in college. I like getting more people involved and learning the game the right way. I always had that bit of coach-iness in me, but I never really knew what it was. I’ve always wanted to do it.”

Mike got his first coaching job in his early 20s by serving as the freshman football coach at North Branford under his father Mike Martone, Sr., who was the varsity head coach at the time. In 2014, Mike became the head coach of the girls’ volleyball team at Jockey Hollow Middle School in Monroe. He then served as head coach of the boys’ volleyball squad at Masuk for one season in 2016. After taking a break from coaching, Mike returned to the sidelines with the Branford JV team last year.

No matter where he was coaching, Mike always learning from the coaches and players with whom he worked, especially how to handle various situations and different types of teams. Now as the head coach with the Hornets, Mike says that his experience with the JV team last season prepared him to take on the varsity role.

“You start to pick up tendencies of your own players versus your opponent. Every team has a specific personality. Finding certain niches are so important,” says Mike. “You learn when you need to rest a kid or push them through. You get to see different coach’s coaching styles. I got to see that last season. We came out so strong, because I already knew where we were going.”

Mike earned his first varsity win with the Hornets when they defeated East Haven in their season opener on Sept. 9. Branford has continued to play well and is currently sporting a record of 5-1 on the year. While he was happy to put his first victory in the books so quickly, Mike felt more excited for his players as he saw a glimpse of what Branford can accomplish on the court this season.

“It was huge for me, but it was mostly huge for the girls. You watched them walk out with smiles on their faces. You got to see the captains feel so good,” Mike says. “They went through three coaches in three seasons, and they didn’t win a lot. To get that first win and get that weight off your shoulders right away set us up for success. The sky’s the limit if we can keep doing it our way.”

As a coach, Mike likes to focus on the fundamentals, team unity, and making sure that his players become experts of the game. When he finishes his first season as Branford’s head coach, Mike wants his athletes to have an excellent understanding of what it means to win as a team.

“I believe they should qualify for every postseason tournament. We always strive to work on the little things we did wrong and improve on the things we did,” says Mike. “It’s not about the ending result. It’s about the process of feeling what it’s like to become a unified winning team.”

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