ShareThis Page
A-K Valley spotlight athletes: Highlands’ Dom Martika, Leechburg’s Kristen Knapp |

A-K Valley spotlight athletes: Highlands’ Dom Martika, Leechburg’s Kristen Knapp

| Wednesday, May 18, 2016 11:24 p.m
Highlands' Dom Martinka
Leechburg's Kristen Knapp

Dom Martinka

School: Highlands

Class: Junior

Sport: Track and field

Report card: Because of a broken leg and dislocated ankle he suffered during football conditioning drills last spring, Martinka went from pushing himself through the halls of Highlands High School in a wheelchair last year to rebounding to become one of the Alle-Kiski Valley’s top track and field athletes. The 5-foot-11, 186-pound Martinka qualified for Thursday’s WPIAL Class AAA individual track and field championships at Baldwin when he placed fourth in the triple jump (42-3¾) and sixth in the long jump (20-1¼) at the qualifier at Norwin last week. He has three first-place finishes in the long jump and triple jump this season. He has a personal record of 42-7 in the triple jump and 21-8 in the long jump. Martinka went from starting on the Golden Rams’ junior varsity team last season to cracking the varsity starting lineup against Girard in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA basketball playoffs. He’s also a member of the Highlands football team where he saw limited action this past season because of his injury.

How long have you been running track and field?

I’ve been running since seventh grade. I’ve been running it as long as I could.

What is your favorite event?

The long jump. It’s nice and simple. I used do the 100 (meter dash), the 200, the 400 (relay) and the 4-by-400.

What do you do to prepare before a jump?

I try and be mellow. For me, if I’m nice and relaxed, I end up jumping better.

Do you have any superstitions before you go out and compete in football or track?

Going to the bathroom.

What do you like most about competing in track and field?

I just like being around different types of people, competing and being around people that have jumped better than me. I try and top everybody I compete against.

What was the most difficult part of your recovery?

I definitely think, especially during football season, it was being able to trust it. Especially now, the weather still bothers it and it lets me know that it’s still there.

How did your injury change you?

The little things. As soon as I could walk, I just felt so good. Just getting in the tub and showering. It makes you realize the little stuff that you don’t appreciate when your fully healthy.

What are you looking forward to most heading into your final season of high school football?

Proving what type of player I am. I haven’t been able to really prove what I could do. Something has always been in the way of me to show what I could actually do.

Have you received any attention from colleges for football?

The biggest college I got a lot of letters from is Akron. I’ve gotten letters from smaller schools. It’s nice to know that schools are interested in me after all of this.

What was the basketball journey like this year?

It was a fun one especially coming off my leg injury.

What three words best describe you?

Adversity. Confidence. Ambitious

What three people would you like to have dinner with?

President Barack Obama, Michael Jordan and Beyonce.

What movie could you watch over and over again?

I just went and watched “Captain America: Civil War,” and it’s one of my favorite movies so I could watch that over and over.

What is your favorite football movie?

There’s a ton. “The Longest Yard.” It’s another one on adversity.

What is your favorite subject in school?

History. It’s so intriguing to me and learning about what happened in the past and why the world is the way it is.

What is your favorite school lunch?

Pizza. They have buffalo chicken and a regular one. I get both.

What is something interesting about you that is nonsports related?

I can do a mean Louis Armstrong impression.

Kristen Knapp

School: Leechburg

Class: Freshman

Sport: Softball

Report card: Knapp stepped in as a freshman to lock down the catcher position for the perennially strong Blue Devils. She tripled, walked and threw out a baserunner in Leechburg’s 9-4 loss to Chartiers-Houston in the first round of the WPIAL Class A softball playoffs. During the regular season, Knapp held a .419 batting average, including two homers, 10 triples and 20 runs scored. A left-handed catcher, she threw out 14 base runners this season. Knapp also plays the outside hitter position for the girls volleyball team.

How long have you been playing softball?

I’ve been playing for 10 years. I started pretty young, and my dad decided that I was going to play softball because I was a lefty.

How long have you been playing catcher, and what attracted you to the position?

I started to grow the love for catching two or three years ago when I played on my tournament team because they had a lot of pitchers, and I could help the pitchers and watch their form.

You’re a pitcher?

I have a pitching coach. I have the Burrell (assistant) coach (Rick) Nealer because I wanted to learn more and become a better athlete.

Do you pitch for a travel team?

I did a little pitching, and there was a lot of pitchers and pitching wasn’t my favorite and I wanted try something new.

Are you a pitcher or a catcher?

Right now, I’m all in for catching because I see that’s where my future is going.

Are there any unique advantages to being a left-handed catcher?

There’s quite a bit. For some reason, it throws people off when they see a left-handed catcher. It just seems that it’s better to be a left-handed catcher. It’s better to throw people out at first and second because there’s mostly right-handed batters.

Leechburg set a WPIAL record this season with 30 consecutive playoff appearances. What is the pressure like to continue the streak from year to year?

It’s terrifying, but I know that we’ll not have big heads about it and try our hardest to keep that streak going for as long as we can.

What is special about this year’s team?

We all get along. There’s no talking about each other, and we’re all very positive.

How much input do you get to call a game from behind the plate?

We have (coach) Mike Young who calls the pitches. I really didn’t call a lot unless we’re winning he’ll let Morgan pitch. But right now, he’s calling all of them.

What has been your biggest adjustment?

I’ve pretty much had to change my whole game and thinking (behind) what I have to do. Younger catching isn’t as important. Now, you’re fighting for your school, and you have to play your best and know the strategy. This year I’ve learned a new catching style and gained arm speed from the workouts that we do.

You’ve been pretty successful at throwing out baserunners trying to steal. What’s your secret?

I look at their footing and, if they’re leaning the wrong way, I’ll throw them out. Our defense is amazing, and they know I like to throw them out.

Do you play travel softball?

This year I took a break. I’m picking up catching and pitching lessons so I can become better. Next year I’ll probably join the Pittsburgh Freedom team again.

What three words best describe you?

Positive. Determined. Out-going.

What three people would you like to have dinner with?

Robin Williams, John Jaso and Fergie.

What movie could you watch over-and-over again?

“The Book of Life.” It’s so colorful, and (I like) the love story behind it.

What is your favorite subject in school?

My old favorite was math. My new favorite is English. My teacher, Ms. Jaros, made me love to write.

What is your favorite school lunch?

Popcorn chicken bowl. It’s got mashed potatoes, chicken, corn and cheese on top.

What is something interesting about you that is nonsports related?

I do community service with Ariana Scott for the boys basketball team. I go to every game with them and set up the water bottles and put their stats into Hudl. We’re basically the coaches’ manager. I’m a band geek. I’m always in the band room and playing the marimba (wooden piano) and learning new things.

What’s your favorite instrument to play?

It has to be the marimba. I play snare drum and the bass drum in the percussion section. A lot of people see me and think I’m an athlete only. My dad plays the drums.

Is your dad in a band?

Sour Mash. It’s southern rock and they’re a really good band, and I love going out and listen to them.

— William Whalen

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.