With a shy, infectious smile and a refreshingly pleasant demeanor, Maria Sanchez looks like your average incoming Idaho State University freshman. She could probably even pass for a high school freshman. But behind the soft-spoken recent American Falls High School graduate lies a pitch warrior who still haunts the dreams of numerous goalies in the Gem State.
“I’m very competitive, so I just want to be one of the best,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez is arguably the best pure goal scorer in Idaho soccer history, male or female.
Her scoring numbers while at American Falls are so astronomically high, they border on absurd.
It’s as if high school soccer was a video game and Sanchez had it set to easy mode. In 17 matches her senior year, Sanchez tallied a whopping 68 goals.
In a sport where three goals in a single game is such an impressive accomplishment, it earned the nickname “the hat trick.”
Sanchez averaged four goals per match as a senior. Sanchez finished up her high school soccer career with an astounding 178 goals.
With such a prodigious talent, the usually-correct assumption is that the wunderkind was started off in the most competitive league possible from the moment he or she could walk.
Quite possibly the most amazing thing about Sanchez’s story is her startling lack of competitive play prior to her days at American Falls High School.
“I grew up in the nowhere pretty much, between Grandview and Bruneau,” Sanchez recalled. “The population was 500, so we didn’t have a soccer team. All we did was play during recess.”
Even after her family moved to American Falls, Sanchez didn’t have many opportunities to hone her skills in competitive play prior to high school.
“[In middle school] we had two opponents, and a couple years, we only had one opponent,” Sanchez said.
So what is it about Sanchez that drew her to the most popular game in the world, and how did she get so good without the benefit of high-level competition?
Sanchez’s answer was endearingly simple.
“Just playing with my brother and his friends, I think that made me improve a lot,” Sanchez said. “Watching soccer on TV, I just wanted to be like the people I saw.”
In an admittedly-small sample size, Sanchez has picked up right where she left off in her first two matches as a Bengal.
Sanchez hammered home two goals in the Bengals’ first game of the season to lead ISU to a 4-2 victory over Minot State on August 22.
This matched her goal total from the Bengals’ exhibition match against Westminster, which the Bengals won 3-1.
In the exhibition, Sanchez scored her goals a scant 90 seconds apart and also assisted on the third Idaho State goal, when she found sophomore midfielder Katherine Roberts on a corner kick.
While the transition appears relatively seamless thus far, Sanchez has noticed significant differences between collegiate soccer and high school soccer.
“It’s more competitive,” Sanchez said, referring to collegiate soccer. “We’re together a lot. Soccer everyday is really nice, because I love soccer so much.”
Despite her immediate success on the pitch as a Bengal, it’s clear that Sanchez hasn’t let the considerable talent she possesses go to her head.
“I think there’s a lot of room to improve,” Sanchez said in regards to the exhibition match. “I know what I can look forward to and how I can improve to get there.”
You can see Sanchez in action on Friday, Aug. 29 at home against Wyoming starting at 4 p.m.