Sunil Sunder Raj, Contributor, Global Women’s Sports Radio
From Pine Hill, New Jersey Anyssa Sanchez attended Sterling High School where she displayed the drive and passion to participate in sports. Not just accomplishing a goal as a three-star athlete in basketball, volleyball, and track & field but a four-year starter, Sanchez ended up earning 12 letter awards.
“I was in that mindset of a young athlete that I wanted to get my hand on anywhere,” Anyssa Sanchez described. “Looking back I was a part of so many amazing programs with great teams and coaches.” I wanted to thank them (Sterling High School) because they put a lot of time and effort and confidence in telling me that I was capable of doing what I had done without realizing it. Initially, I thought basketball would be like a part-time job and little did I know that volleyball and track would be knocking on my door.”
“They welcomed me with open arms, introduced me to some new things trusted me, and gave me that confidence as a young 14-15 year-old freshman that really didn’t know outside of basketball, and I am still very thankful for.”
Deciding to attend Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, Sanchez excelled on the basketball court. In her sophomore year on the Profs, earning NJAC (New Jersey Athletic Conference) second-team honors while leading the team in scoring and field goal percentage.
Maintaining that consistency, Sanchez had a breakout senior year, named the team captain, she led the team in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage that resulted in earning a
Women’s Basketball Coaches All-America honorable mention, NJAC All-Conference first-team, named NJAC Player of the Week three times named to the D3hoops.com All-Atlantic Region third-team ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference ) Metro All-Star honorable mention and Albert J. Carino Girls Basketball Club of South Jersey Player of the Year. Off the court, Sanchez majored in health, exercise, and science.
“I developed that passion, it never stopped and continued to grow,” Anyssa Sanchez described. “I was fortunate to manage it and make sure I put myself in a position where I was constantly learning.” I actually had the opportunity to be coached by Demetrius Poles, my junior and senior years. At the time the staff was fully supportive of my position as an athlete, stance, drive, and making sure whatever I needed and access to the strength and conditioning room as well as the coaches contacts.”
“I had a great support system at the time from the team itself to my family and my Mom.” “That really stuck with me and made sure not to let her down in the sense if she is going to take the time and money and whatever it takes to get to me these places to make sure I’m in a position to thrive as an athlete and individual and you fall short sometimes and learn from it and I think that kind of telltale into where I am and made me into who I am today.”
“As an athlete as well as a former athlete it was the perfect environment for me, because (health exercise and science major) it teaches you everything we do on a daily basis as an
athlete and making sure you are taking care of your body, that you’re recovering properly and understanding what is going on inside your body and constantly remembering it’s telling you something so I think at a young age I was able to appreciate being more of a student-athlete and what it meant.”
After graduating from Rowan University, Sanchez pursued her professional basketball aspirations by playing in the top Puerto Rico professional women’s basketball league. In 2019 Sanchez was named the 6th Man of the Year award the BSNF of Puerto Rico.
“It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget,” Anyssa Sanchez noted. “My grandparents are from Puerto Rico themselves, I was considered a native and in 2018 I was drafted by Cafetaleras de Yauco.” It was just a great experience, a year out of college and being able to experience different types of athletes, different types of play sets, and had the opportunity to play against and with some of the national players. Puerto Rico has such a deep pride in where they come from and everything they stand for. From the standpoint of being a native, that’s where my family comes from, and knowing everything they’ve gone through in the past couple of years with the storm and recovery and just to see them smile and cheer and just be happy is something that I’ll truly never forget.”
In 2019 Sanchez had the opportunity to come full circle by returning to her alma rater Rowan University as an assistant coach on the women’s basketball team. Working under Head Coach Demetrius Poles, Sanchez had to juggle a number of tasks including player development, film breakdown, and implementing daily and monthly strength and conditioning/practice schedules. Rowan enjoyed a truly historic 2019-20 season, winning their first NJAC Conference Championship and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.
“That was a great opportunity, it actually was something last minute, I found out that my former coach Gabby Lisella was stepping down and I was still in Puerto Rico at the time and had reached out to Demetrius Poles to see not necessarily if he had a spot on his staff and if he wanted any help,” Anyssa Sanchez remarked. “I thought it would be a good transition for myself at the time and he wanted me back.”
“I got back and jumped right in, he offered me the assistant coaching position on the staff, and from that point forward got to work there.” “We were a younger team, I hadn’t known any of the girls because I had been gone for three or four years but the girls down to the staff were all amazing, and super welcoming, a great group. They had gone on to win the 2020 NJAC Conference Championship and that was huge for the program as well. As a coach and former player that was something I never reached and being able to do it with that program means so much to me and I love those girls dearly.”
This past summer Sanchez had the opportunity to speak with NJIT women’s basketball head coach Mike Lane about the Director of Basketball Operations position of the women’s basketball team. With a clear understanding of the job description, it became official at the end of November that Sanchez would take over the role.
“It was very difficult to leave that program (Rowan University) because in a year you get so comfortable and you’re ready to take on that next step,” Anyssa Sanchez mentioned. “When you are faced with an opportunity you can’t turn down and they were also equally supportive as well from the staff down to the girls and pushed me to towards that position and myself they were just proud of me and wanted me to continue to make a way in this position.
“Coach(Mike)Lane has been super understanding of where I’m coming from and trying to give me as much information as possible to prepare me for what I was getting into.”
“Once I arrived, he along with the rest of the staff members have been willing to help me learn and make my way around and get comfortable. I’m thankful to have such a strong staff and a head coach who’s willing to help and check in on you and make sure everything’s okay.”
“I would definitely say for myself it’s the perfect position having been a student-athlete at one time and easier to relate with the girls and staff.”
“Although we may be of different ages and come from different backgrounds, we have one thing in common and that is the love and passion for the game. That drive is what is going to get you there and to make sure I am constantly putting myself to be in a position to be the backbone of the staff to the girls and as long as I am doing my job that allows the rest of the staff to do theirs as well.”
The first two weeks have been very hectic for Sanchez with the Highlanders opening America East play with back-to-back games at New Hampshire including the first win of the season and in the conference and now with an upcoming road game this Friday at FDU (Fairleigh Dickinson University).
“It was an amazing feeling for everyone and a big deal to be in this conference,” Anyssa Sanchez explained.
“Overall, Lane said he received immense support from other programs within NJIT as well as outside the program and university as well. Everybody understands how big it truly was for us to take the floor on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon and made the girls well aware of that and part of something truly special. A historic point moving forward and I think it was a great way to start a season and a lot of learning experiences. I know personally, I couldn’t stop smiling.”
“Typically it starts off strong with a Monday practice which was a little bit tough because we have just gotten back from UNH trip at about 9:30 p.m. at night but everybody just battled through yesterday.” Typically we practice Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, early morning testing with the girls and the staff. Then we get right into practice from 10:30 to 12:30 and from there everybody departs. We have some lifting going on and some girls have individuals with other coaches and myself will be connecting with Coach Lane to get some things done in terms of an itinerary for the upcoming trip to FDU as well as the monthly calendar for the girls and staff to follow along with so we’re all on the same page.”
“We’re making sure that we’re getting together in terms of traveling, food, that the girls have snacks and gear and connecting with coaches to prepare for the game on Friday as well and making sure we have FDU’s game plan in ours as well.”
An important topic is diversity and representation of women in sports especially college basketball, Sanchez is cognizant of the role she places in this process, and the example she is setting in her current role at NJIT.
“I think me being in this position alone is very eye-opening for many reasons, being a female coming from a Division III level and minority is very important for other females,” Anyssa Sanchez noted.
“I think it’s very important for other females to see more females in positions of not only power but positions you see on a daily basis. Growing up it’s difficult to see yourself in a position that you don’t typically don’t see yourself whether it’s a male driven profession and kind of hinders you to thinking outside or expanding what you could be really interested in as a young adult just doesn’t seem realistic.”
“One message I give to them is just don’t stop once you made the choice and there’s no moving forward that you are not going to continue to strive for what you wanted.”
“As long as you continue to pursue and put your name and face out there and continue to learn as much as possible so that when that day comes when you are faced with an opportunity you feel that confidence and readiness to be able to jump right on and say I’ve got this. Anything is possible especially if that’s instilled in you that you want something and you’re going to go get it by all means and don’t let anyone or anything stop you from doing so.”