After a summer playing for team Mexico in both the World Cup and the Pan-American Games, Maria Sanchez returns to Idaho State for her sophomore campaign with lofty expectations for herself and the rest of the Bengals on the pitch.
If early season success is an indicator, Sanchez appears ready for a big year.
Through Sept. 12 she leads or is tied in the lead for ISU in every major offensive category including goals (5), assists (2), shots (29) and shots on goal (18), also leading the Big Sky in goals, points, shots and shots on goal.
Sanchez hails from nearby American Falls, a small town with a population of 4,457 as of the 2010 census, mostly known as a farming and ranching community located 25 miles west of Pocatello.
Staying close to home was an important factor in her decision to come to ISU.
“Idaho State was the only division one college that I got offered and it is close to home so I decided to come here because I wanted to stay close to home,” said Sanchez. “I wanted to impress coming from a smaller school. I’ve always come from small places so I wanted to go to another small place and help make it something bigger.”
Part of a hard-working family, Sanchez stated that seeing the effort put in by her parents daily over the years has driven her to devote extra time to becoming a standout on the soccer field.
Her dad worked on a farm for 25 years and now both parents work at the Driscoll Factory in American Falls.
“My brother was my only influence to play soccer because my parents were never able to play. Wanting to get them out of work and giving them a successful life is why I have tried so hard with soccer and school,” said Sanchez.
To this point, the results on the field have set the bar high early for Maria.
Those experiences have been highlighted by the opportunity earned to play for Mexico this past summer in Canada at the World Cup.
Sanchez earned her way onto the main team after playing on the U-20 team. Head Coach Leonardo Cuellar of the Mexican women’s national team traveled with that group and became interested in moving her up for the World Cup after seeing her play.
“He liked what I was doing so I kept getting called. I was the youngest player on the Pan-American team,” said Sanchez.
Along with being the youngest player on the Pan-American team at just 19, Sanchez was also the second youngest on the World Cup team for Mexico. Emily Alvarado was one of the youngest players in the bracket at 17 during play in Group F which featured France, England, Columbia and Mexico.
The process of getting on a national team is a long one, with many talented players for coaches to choose from.
“I tried out in February and got called in March to go to camps in April with the U-20s. I got called for the World Cup team in the summer after the U-20s and after the World Cup I got called for the Pan-American Games,” said Sanchez.
When she got back from the experience, local support in Idaho was immense. With all the coverage of Sanchez and soccer in general as a result, she hopes that it creates a platform to enhance the visibility of the sport to the younger generation in the area.
“The biggest thing for me is inspiring little kids. They look up to me and that motivates me to keep going as well.”
Since a young age Maria has stood out on the field, with accolades following her all along the way.
During high school she was a four-year varsity participant, leading the state in scoring during each season. She totaled 178 goals for the Beavers, highlighted by 68 in her senior campaign.
At one point during her time at American Falls, Maria scored seven goals in one half prior to switching to goalkeeper for the remainder of the match.
“I’ve always loved soccer more than anything. More than any sport I have ever played. I feel free playing soccer.”
Prior to ISU, the now leading goal-scorer for the Bengals was also a standout on the basketball court at American Falls.
A four-year varsity athlete for basketball as well, Sanchez had a steal total of 124 during her senior year with 107 as a junior, also adding double-doubles on a consistent basis.
There was never really a question as to what she wanted to play collegiately though, with lofty personal and team expectations following her to ISU.
“My personal goal is to break the goals record for both the Big Sky and Idaho State. As a team I want make it to the NCAA tournament by winning the Big Sky championship and impress while we are there.”
The support of the home fans at Davis Field can be a key factor in pushing the Bengals over the top in a match.
“It’s really motivating to know that they are here supporting us and watching what we do. When they start yelling with every little thing we do it motivates us to keep trying harder and do good things. We want to win for those that come and support us,” said Sanchez.
The next home match for ISU is on Sept. 25 at 4 p.m. against Big Sky rival Idaho to kick-off conference action.