Sticking it to ’em

Junior Gabi Sanchez journeys from beginner to experienced hockey player

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courtesy of Gabi Sanchez

Gabi plays JV silver hockey for the school – the top tier for the league. "The kids on my team struggled a little bit at first with this season especially because I think they saw me a little bit as a threat," Gabi said. "It's kind of hard when there's a girl who's older and in some ways better. They just really did not like it. But most other JV teams have at least one girl in the program, so they are usually pretty accepting."

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A teammate passed a confused Gabi Sanchez the puck and screamed for her to shoot. With a crack of her hockey stick, Gabi exploded the puck into the net. Score.

That was her first-ever goal. Now, two years later, Gabi plays junior varsity silver hockey for the school – the top tier for the league. She can’t seem to get off the ice – even if she is one of two females on the team.

“That was my first ever goal, and I still remember that,” Gabi said. “It was such a great day. That kid (the one who passed her the puck) I had only played that season with him, and I still talk to him to this day. That was two years ago. Whenever we see each other, it’s a forever bond between teammates, and I think that’s really cool.”

An athlete for most of her life, Gabi played soccer for two to three years, softball for five years and volleyball for two years. After she quit volleyball in eighth grade, Gabi hunted for a new sport. She turned to hockey after watching two close friends play.

“I’ve always been in athletics my whole life,” Gabi said. “I played volleyball in seventh and eighth grade, and I played one season of club with that. But, I did not like the coaching, and the way it was working, so I stopped playing.  I had also gotten a couple of major injuries. I have two really good friends that play. I’ve been watching them play for years now, and I just really liked watching them. So I ended up starting playing. That was almost three years ago.”

When Gabi told her parents she wanted to try out hockey, she said they were confused and uncertain. Her father didn’t know what the sport was and even bought field hockey sticks.

“They weren’t super excited, but they understood,” Gabi said. “They realized I needed an outlet that was athletic, and that was a good way. They didn’t think it was going to get this far. They anticipated it as being more of a recreational game and lower level, but that’s not how this has progressed.”

Photo Courtesy of Gabi Sanchez
“We are pretty much playing all year round,” Gabi Sanchez said. “If you’re not in some sort of league, then you’re playing with camps and other teams in practices and private lessons and such. If you’re really committed you’re always on the ice.”

“I’m very proud of Gabi,” Chris Sanchez, Gabi’s dad, said. “She’s worked hard. She’s shown improvement. She’s dedicated to the sport. Her passion and love of the sport has paid dividends, showing up on the ice. My proudest moment is watching her out there take a big hit, fall down, get right back up and lay somebody out afterwards. ”

Learning the rules of the sport, skating at a faster pace and the skills needed on the ice proved difficult, Gabi said, because her age required her to play at a more competitive level.

“I started off at the level most kids start off on, but when they start they are usually seven or eight, and I was 14,” she said. “Then, that next fall season with the full sheet, I had to move up because there wasn’t another league in between. So I was a freshman, playing with 18-year-olds. It was hard at first, but you just kind of have to get used to it. I’ve known how to skate for a while, but I wasn’t anywhere good enough to play, and I had to get better pretty quickly. Most of the kids are pretty nice, but I was not very good at all because I had just learned how to skate and play, and I didn’t really understand the game very well.”

About a year after she started playing, Gabi began training with a private coach to help develop her game. As the oldest on the team, her teammates had to adjust to her intimidating presence.

“The kids on my team struggled a little bit at first with this season especially because I think they saw me a little bit as a threat,” Gabi said. “It’s kind of hard when there’s a girl who’s older and in some ways better. They just really did not like it. But most other JV teams have at least one girl in the program, so they are usually pretty accepting. Usually, most people don’t really care. I don’t really see it myself until I’m going up against these guys who are 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, and I’m like, I’m going to get flattened. They don’t really care to hit you because they think ‘Oh, you’re big enough. You’re strong enough. You can take it.'”

Gabi and freshman Selena Falzone, the other female on the team, admitted that working with a majority male team has its obstacles, but their love for hockey supersedes the challenges.

“Playing on a hockey team where the majority of the players are male can be weird sometimes and a bit separating,” freshman Selena Falzone said. “Girls have to get dressed in separate locker rooms than the boys, so that makes it harder for us to create the bonds that the boys create in the locker rooms. Besides that, it’s really fun.”

Photo courtesy of Gabi Sanchez
“Gabi consists of many great qualities. She’s a very understanding person, and if you mess up a drill or a play, you don’t have to worry about her scolding you for messing up,” freshman teammate Selena Falzone said. “Gabi is a great leader, which is good as she is the oldest on the team and is an example for all of us younger players to follow.”

Gabi hopes to move up to the varsity team next year, but she could face setbacks based on her size.

“It’s hard for girls to play on varsity team because a lot of coaches are like, ‘Well, you’re not quite as big as all the other guys. You’re not quite as buff as them. Most girls just don’t have that muscle mass,” Gabi said. “But it’s really good when you find a coach who is willing to put you on because of your skill level and not because of your size. I’m hoping to have that opportunity next year to play varsity, but it all just depends on how the coaches feel.”

For the official season, games start in September and end in February. The high school team is based out of the McKinney rink.

“We are a solid second place right now,” Gabi said. “We have three or four more games left in our season right now before playoffs, but as of right now we have a pretty good shot a getting there. I really hope so (that I’ll make it to playoffs). This will be our first time in three years a JV team for Prosper has made it to playoffs. It’s really exciting.”

As for the future, Gabi looks to play D1 or D2 hockey in college for the American Collegiate Hockey Association. Although she doesn’t see herself continuing hockey in her professional career, Gabi wants to play as long as she can, maybe eventually coaching children.

“I’m looking at Liberty University right now in Lynchburg, Virginia,” she said. “I’m hoping to play on their D1 team, but if I play D2, I’d be perfectly OK with that too, because I just want to keep playing. It’s really fun. (My parents) don’t like the idea of me going so far for the prospect of playing, but they understand that if its something that I really like, then they’re willing to help me pursue it.”

For more information, and to hear more about Sanchez’s experience, check out Episode 5 of “Fridays are for the Girls,” produced and hosted by Emily Reish early this school year by clicking the play triangle below.