Leading libero Kayla Martin reaches 1,000 digs in her collegiate career


Mihiro Shimano

Senior libero and defensive specialist Kayla Martin playing against the University of Rhode Island in 2021.

Amelia Ballingall, news staff

Kayla Martin, a senior captain libero and defensive specialist on the Northeastern University volleyball team, has been a force to be reckoned with since her freshman year. On Oct. 2, she reached a milestone, tallying her 1,000th career dig in a game against Elon University.

A dig is “anything that the opponent’s attacking [where] you’re keeping the ball from hitting the floor,” Martin said. 

Digs are important to defense in volleyball, as they keep the ball off the ground and in your team’s possession after an attack. They often require diving or dropping low to the ground in order to get under the ball. 

Martin has done this over 1,000 times in the last four years, saving her team from attack after attack and helping the Huskies get as far as the 2021 CAA Championship, where the team fell to Towson University in the final round.

“It’s cool to see hard work paying off in these things,” Martin said. “It really means a lot to me because it means that I’m helping the team in a way that I should be and I’m doing my job.”

Martin has been working hard in the sport since the age of 12, when she made the switch from gymnastics to volleyball. Although she was “late to the sport,” she knew volleyball was something she was going to be doing for a long time. 

“Going into high school, I just really focused on it because I knew that this was something that I was passionate about, … [but I] didn’t really know what the opportunities were that [lay] ahead of me,” Martin said. 

The libero committed to Northeastern University at the end of her sophomore year of high school and began attending in fall 2019 after amassing a staggering 1,175 digs for her high school team. 

Ever since her start at Northeastern, Martin has been making progress towards a collegiate 1,000.

“My freshman year, I [played defensive specialist] a lot,” Martin said. “There was a senior libero ahead of me, [so] I was in and out of the libero jersey, but I think it really came sophomore year when I started playing libero a little bit more, racking up more digs.”

The majority of Martin’s 1,000 digs came during her junior and senior years, as her sophomore year was interrupted by COVID-19. During that season, Martin only tallied 179 digs, short of her freshman 216 and her junior 400. 

“I just think that Kayla and all of them have been through so much in these last few years, … and to see her reach this milestone, I hope that she and the team are very proud that we have fought through all of the trauma that has happened the last few years and that we continue to see that anything is possible if you keep fighting through,” head coach Lenika Vazquez said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was not the only struggle of Martin’s collegiate career. Her coach said Martin has donned various medical wraps, needed heating pads and amassed “battle scars,” but did not get off the court until she was on crutches. 

“There’s never a point where she won’t give all that she has,” Vazquez said. 

Her coaches are not the only ones who see this in her; Martin’s teammates offer a similar sentiment.

“On and off the court, Kayla is really our captain and backbone of the team,” said Defne Arliel, a junior outside hitter.

Despite the grand statement from her teammate, the libero refuses to take all the credit for herself. Martin says she has learned a lot just from being in a team atmosphere. 

“It definitely took my team relying on each other,” Martin said. “We definitely have built a really great culture of leaning on each other. We’re really close, so it helps to have really great teammates there to push me in practice so that I can perform in games.”

Martin, junior libero and defensive specialist Maddie Donaphon and graduate student outside hitter Laura Seeger were named as captains for the 2022-2023 season. 

“Kayla has just been a role model for everybody on the team and her milestone just shows her importance and how good of a player and a captain she’s been to this program,” Arliel said.

On the court, Martin is a leader in many different ways and has been since her start with the Huskies, her coach said.

“[She has] a high level of commitment and a high level of discipline when it comes to just coming in and working smart every day,” Vazquez said.

As libero, Martin has a vital job on defense. She’s in control of changing the team’s different defensive systems and making sure she’s in the right place for the team to be successful. 

“Kayla works very hard in practice and she does really well reading. She does really well in our system and is definitely a leader to help the defense on our team,” Vazquez said.

Her leadership extends even beyond her current team. As the libero has now entered her senior season, recruitment is underway to find future Huskies to further Northeastern volleyball. 

“She’s definitely an inspiration for other players that will come through the program and an inspiration for high school players that look up to her,” said Vazquez.

Heading into the weekend against Elon, the libero knew she was only 15 digs away from reaching 1,000. Although the number wasn’t new to her, having surpassed it in high school, it was still a big milestone to reach on the college level. 

“I always hate having [a milestone] in my head because I feel like I’m focused on that when I should be focused on other things like just doing my job so we can win,” Martin said. “I definitely think that actually impacted my game a bit.”

Digs are difficult to keep track of in volleyball, as there are a variety of rules surrounding what actually counts as a dig. When Martin finally reached her milestone, she wasn’t even fully aware of it, thinking she was maybe one off, she said. 

“That moment, I actually didn’t expect to get emotional just because I knew I was so close to it, but just hearing my teammates supporting me and hearing the crowd cheering, it was just kind of a surreal moment,” Martin said.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Oct. 12 at 9:36 p.m. to correct the date of the game