As they watched her tear up and down the field in relentless pursuit of the ball, and as they saw her churn through multiple Lady Raiders like a heat-seeking missile (with GPS), the Sharyland girls were in awe.
“Wow, number 10 is really mean,” one of them giggled nervously, knowing that at some point during the ECISD Tournament, the Lady Rattlers would have to go up against Leah Sanchez and the Lady Bobcats.
Now, the truth is, EHS’s junior striker is an ultra-aggressive player who is absolutely relentless, and missile-like. But off the field she is super pleasant: she wouldn’t hurt a fly … unless that fly were looking to get on the ball, that is.
Sanchez is the original dichotomy, able to be well-liked and gentle when it comes to school, peers, and home, and yet become a terror of the best variety while on the pitch. She explains.
“I have always been like that, really, super intense, when I step on the field, I want the ball, it’s that simple,” she said after EHS had defeated Pharr North 2-0, with No. 10 getting the first goal. “I want to show everyone, the teams, coaches and parents, that I am willing to work hard. I think it’s just wanting to win, and of course, to get the ball.”
Against Pharr North, Sanchez turned in the fastest goal anyone will ever see, roaring through a defender after the opening tap to head left of goal and send a bomb into the net with just 12 seconds gone. She spent the rest of the half making the Lady Raiders miserable with her hard-charging runs, quick feet, and indefatigable spirit to win 50-50 tries.
Sanchez is a dogged competitor but not a ball hog, by any stretch of the imagination. She works well in tandem with elegant midfielder/forward “Titi” Munoz, and is actually a superb passer. Sanchez is also not loath to track back and play some defense, because again, it gives her a chance to win the ball.
“That’s what it’s all about, getting the ball, and doing something with it,” said the pint-sized but powerful Sanchez. “I have always just let it all go out there. The funny thing is, I didn’t like soccer at all at first, I was really into softball. But when I started playing this game in the seventh grade, I don’t know, I just fell in love with it right away.”
That sudden re-direct of passion has been a boon to EHS, as Sanchez proved to be a goal hound from her first freshman match. As the Lady Bobcats pursue a league title this season with a terrific spine consisting of Sanchez and Munoz, steady defender Milena Munoz, and keeper Kristen Salinas, they know that every minute she is on the field, Sanchez is going to crank the hustle, and produce.
“My mother taught me to work hard from the start,” said the exciting veteran, whose long black hair never seems to totally cooperate with her chongito, flowing free and wild like the kid’s game. “She said if you are going to be a toiler cleaner, fine, be the best toilet cleaner you can be. And that has been my mantra for the past few years. Be the best I can be, get out there and work as hard as I can.”
The Lady Bobcats have a shot at winning 31-6A, after a fourth-place finish last season and a playoff win to boot. They have that nucleus of stalwarts, and a number of other girls who are bent on being the rest of the story. Speedy junior Sarah Garcia has moved into the midfield from forward and done well, while sophomores Abby Martinez and Kathia Castillo are improving daily. Castillo is in a sense not un-Sanchezlike as she has shown a penchant for fighting through defenders with grit and considerable strength.
EHS did not make it into the consolation bracket Saturday, missing out on points, finishing 2-2 at the tourney after a win over Mercedes but losses to Valley View and Sharyland.