These days Maria Sanchez ’19 scores goals for the Mexican national team and matches records at Santa Clara. Growing up, she didn’t play under the bright lights or with the guidance of a team of coaches. She just crossed the street to play soccer with her brother and other neighborhood children. It 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 high school, Sanchez became the leading scorer in the state of Idaho. But without a club team or national recognition, college recruiters didn’t notice her. Sanchez signed to Idaho State.
“Going into college I was really freaked out because I had never competed against a really good team,” Sanchez says. “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.’”
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,” she says. “Even my parents asked me if I was sure I wanted to try out, 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.”
Sanchez made the cut, appearing in the 2015 Under-20 Women’s World Cup and other tournaments.
That got her noticed.
In 2017, she transferred to Santa Clara University. Sanchez played in all 23 games in her first season as a Bronco. She aided the Broncos with a goal against Vanderbilt, helping propel Santa Clara to a 3–1 win in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Over the summer she played in the Central American and Caribbean Games. She scored in the 71st minute of the semifinal, giving Mexico the lead over Venezuela. 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.
An NCAA tournament invite came in 2018 as well. In round one, Sanchez had two goals and two assists to take over the national lead in assists. Yes, she’s getting noticed.
GIANNINA ONG ’18 worked as an intern for Santa Clara Magazine and received a Hackworth Fellowship to study sports and ethics.