It was an early spring practice back in 2010, and West Forsyth girls’ lacrosse coach Dan Kaplan noticed an exceptional play down the field.
"Great job, Martelli!" he yelled, and Marisa Martelli turned her head. But Kaplan wasn’t talking about her.
"Not you," he clarified, "the little one."
Kaplan then pointed to Marisa’s younger sister, Monica: a freshman who, prior to tryouts just weeks earlier, had never played organized lacrosse.
But there she was, not only competing with the school’s best talent, but thriving, as well.
Monica has since grown up, but the moniker "little one" stuck. And just two years since bursting on the scene, she’s blossomed into the 2014 Forsyth County News Girls’ Lacrosse Player of the Year.
"I feel like my hard work since freshman year has paid off," she said. "I think I did very well, I did what I was supposed to do to help my team win."
Martelli finished the 2014 campaign with 61 goals, tops in the county. Her scoring ability, along with her faceoff prowess, boosted West to a 13-5 record and a Forsyth Cup.
The Lady Wolverines won nine of 10 games from March 3 to April 22, capped by a thrilling 11-10 victory at Johns Creek, in which Martelli had to hold onto the ball for the last five minutes of regulation to secure the win.
Unfortunately, a concussion suffered against North Gwinnett in the first round of the playoffs kept her out against Milton two days later. Devoid of their leading scorer, the Lady Wolverines fell to the Lady Eagles, 20-5, bringing their season to an end.
"We lost a lot of seniors last year, so this was a rebuilding year," Martelli said. "And we really, really surprised everyone with our team and dominated at times throughout the season.
"I feel really good about next season. I feel like we’re going to come together even stronger."
Though Martelli exhibited a lot of skill from the first time she stepped on the field, it took a lot of work before she grew into a polished, lethal goal-scorer.
When she tried out for the team her freshman year, her understanding of lacrosse was limited. She didn’t know many rules. She didn’t have a strong grip on the mental aspect of the game. So Kaplan had a choice to make.
He could have sent her to JV, where she would have started against so-so competition, or he could immediately bring her to the varsity squad, where she wouldn’t play much off the bat but would face tough competition day in and day out at practice.
Kaplan chose the latter, allowing him to work with her regularly.
In hindsight, it was the correct move.
"We took it slow with her," Kaplan recalled. "I noticed she was very athletic, very quick, and for someone who had not played lax had good stick skills.
"She was like a sponge. She absorbed everything we told her, and she improved every day. Beginning to end we have all marveled at how she has adapted."
Soon, Monica will embark on her fourth and final season at West, which will be pivotal in several respects. For starters, she’ll have to make the decision whether or not to play in college.
The talent is there, as is the drive, so it doesn’t appear to be a matter of if she will move on to the next level, but where.
"Lacrosse is my passion; it’s my life," she said. "I can’t see myself not playing in college."
Perhaps most importantly, though, she’ll be without Kaplan, who has moved over to Forsyth Central to become the Bulldogs’ new athletic director.
Martelli credits much of her success to Kaplan, whose faith in her three years ago allowed the little sister to develop into something special.
"I wouldn’t be player of the year without coach and his support," Martelli said. "He taught me the game of lacrosse from Day 1. He just built me up, saw potential in me, put me on varsity even though I had no idea what I was doing and made me into the player I am today."
"The sky is the limit with her," Kaplan added. "She’ll continue her work ethic, and with the kind of family she has, and the values they have instilled, she’ll go as far as she wants."