Windham High freshman Ava Sanchez had considered it, but she was far from convinced that she should run cross country in addition to playing field hockey, which has always been her No. 1 passion.
But then she got double teamed.
While watching Sanchez glide around the field hockey mile time trial in the preseason, cross country coach Kelly Fox saw a natural. She just had to make a pitch.
“She (Fox) talked to me about it and she asked my brother (Braden) to help,” said Sanchez.
Braden, a junior on the Jaguars’ boys cross country team, did just that and the combination did the trick.
“They talked me into it,” said Sanchez. “I gave into them.”
And now Sanchez is happy she did, as she’s become one of the premier freshmen in both sports.
In field hockey, which Sanchez has played since sixth grade, including for the Northeast Elite team, she quickly became a starting midfielder for the unbeaten defending Division 1 state champions and has scored three goals.
In cross country, she wasted no time making her mark, running a solid 21:17 in one of her first 5Ks and establishing herself as the team’s No. 2 runner.
Both coaches are thrilled with her progress.
“From that moment (of the time trial), I knew she had the ability to be a pretty incredible runner,” said Fox. “Each race she has competed, she attacked it fearlessly. She is a natural runner, she trusts her instincts, and her drive and motivation are what makes her have an unbelievable kick at every race.
“We are so fortunate that she has agreed to run with us ... she has a very bright future, one that I hope to remain a part of.”
Sanchez had a limited middle school background in cross country, but her experience was much greater in field hockey, which included playing two years in California, where she lived during the seventh and eighth grades.
Windham field hockey coach Katie Blair recognized that Sanchez had acquired skills, but she’s even more impressed with her drive.
“Ava is doing really well and clearly she is in incredible shape,” said Blair. “Her fitness level is at the top of our program. She is versatile and able to play any position on the field. She has a great shot and relentless is the word I would use to describe her. She has a bright future.”
Because it’s her top priority, Sanchez primarily practices with the field hockey team. But, she says, “I have to run a lot for field hockey and I run during the summer.”
And, says Fox, who gladly welcomes her for meets and whenever she can join the team, “Look at the results — it doesn’t seem to matter.”
Although in the beginning she was slightly wary of doing both sports, Sanchez has no regrets now. Quite the contrary.
“I’m definitely glad I did it,” she said. “I’m having so much fun and I love my teammates on both teams.”
From cross country, Sanchez enjoys striving for personal-best times and “seeing how fast I can go,” but her most rewarding moments come in field hockey.
“The greatest feeling for me is scoring the winning goal because you get so much support from your teammates and you know you’ve helped the team,” said Sanchez, who has a background in gymnastics but will probably run indoor and outdoor track for the Jaguars.
Looking ahead, Sanchez is aiming to go sub-21 minutes for 5K this year in cross country and help the field hockey team defend its Division 1 state championship with a long-range goal of “getting recruited for field hockey and go to a good college.”
Thus far, the multi-talented freshman is off to a great start on both fronts.