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From Playground to Pro

From Playground to Pro

By Giannina Ong ’18

Maria Sanchez ’19 takes control of the field. Photo courtesy of SCU Athletics.
A long way from the pick-up games she played in Idaho, Maria Sanchez ’19 continues to score for the Mexican national team and match records at Santa Clara.

Growing up, Maria Sanchez ’19 did not get the same elite training she does now. She didn’t play under the bright lights or with the guidance of a team of coaches. She simply crossed the street to play soccer with her older brother and the neighborhood boys. But this was enough to spark the fire.

“I started watching men’s professional soccer and seeing how they played, I knew I had a passion for the sport,” Sanchez recalls. “I was from a small town and I always wanted to play for Mexico.”

In her high school years, Sanchez was the leading scorer—male or female—in the state of Idaho. Despite that, she went unnoticed by college recruiters. Her high school American Falls High even retired her jersey. But without a club team or national recognition, Sanchez stayed in state and signed to Idaho State University.

“I was always so scared. Going into college I was really freaked out because I had never competed against a really good team. I had high school competition but it wasn’t anything close to what I knew college would be like. When I started playing in college, I began to notice that ‘Hey, I’m actually pretty much at the level that everyone else is at,’” Sanchez says.

At Idaho State, she developed a reputation. She was not only the lead goal scorer and shooter for her Idaho team, but of the whole conference. That same year, in the spring offseason, she tried out for the Mexico women’s national team. “I knew it was a risk. Even my parents asked me if I was sure wanted to tryout, because they felt like it was a big step. I had always prepared myself for any opportunity that came my way. I felt prepared at the moment, so I knew that if I just played how I played and stuck with it, I would maybe have a chance.”

Out of the hundred who tried out, Sanchez made the cut. She appeared in the 2015 Under-20 Women’s World Cup and a handful of other tournaments. That got her noticed.

Maria Sanchez ’19

In 2017, Sanchez transferred to Santa Clara University. Her first season as a Bronco had her appear in all 23 games and starting in 15 of them as a forward. Last year, she aided the Broncos with a goal as they took on Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA tournament, beating them 3–1. The women’s team eventually fell in the next round to fifth ranked South Carolina.

She kept on her toes this summer, playing in the Central American and Caribbean Games. As part of “Las Tri,” Sanchez shot a goal in the 71st minute allowing Mexico to take the lead over Venezuela in the semifinal. Under those bright lights, she was crowned Player of the Match at only 20 years old.

“It was the first tournament that I got to prove myself to the senior team. Winning player of the match helped me grow and gain trust from my teammates. It really meant a lot to be recognized,” says Sanchez.

Back at Stevens Stadium, the women’s soccer home opener pitted the Broncos against the Cal Bears. During this battle of the Bay, Sanchez tied a Santa Clara record with her four assists. She is in good company: the last player to accomplish this was Mandy Clemens ’03, a forward honored with the Hermann Trophy in her senior year. Against North Texas, Sanchez shot the only goal of the match, gaining her WCC Player of the Week.

As the season progresses, Sanchez will surely prove a valuable asset to the team, continuing a Santa Clara tradition of high-scoring female forwards. What’s in her future? Sanchez hopes to be signed to a professional team early next year. Mostly, she looks forward to answering the call of the Mexican national team for years to come.

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