Monday, April 19, 2021

Sports Person of the Week

Garcia-Perez Was a Complete Leader for the Indians

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Senior captain midfielder Gabi-Garcia Perez finished her career with Guilford girls’ soccer by guiding the Indians to an epic campaign this fall. Gabi and her teammates notched 18 victories while claiming conference and state championships in the 2019 season. Photo courtesy of Gabi Garcia-Perez

Senior captain midfielder Gabi-Garcia Perez finished her career with Guilford girls’ soccer by guiding the Indians to an epic campaign this fall. Gabi and her teammates notched 18 victories while claiming conference and state championships in the 2019 season. (Photo courtesy of Gabi Garcia-Perez )

Gabi Garcia-Perez picked a good time to score her first regulation goal of the season for the Guilford girls’ soccer team. With the Indians trailing East Lyme in the Class L final, the senior captain netted the game-tying score that gave Guilford momentum and led to a 2-1 win and a state title for Gabi and company. The victory provided a storybook ending to a high school career that saw Gabi serve as an energetic and inspirational leader for the Indians.

Guilford was down 1-0 to East Lyme when Gabi came through the midfield and collected a sideline pass from teammate Amelia Rattet. Gabi took a few dribbles and then uncorked a searing, high-rising shot that East Lyme’s goalie never had a chance to stop. After Gabi’s goal tied the game in the first half, Lily Riccio scored the go-ahead goal in the second half to secure Guilford’s first state championship since 2013.

“If you look at the pictures of our reactions, there’s really no words to describe it. Our celebration was us hugging each other. We were just in a frenzy,” says Gabi. “We did something together as a team, which the community loved. So many people have reached out to us, people who have lived in Guilford since their childhood. It’s amazing.”

A central midfielder, Gabi led the Indians alongside fellow senior captain Madison Gambardella this year. In addition to taking the state title, Guilford also won the SCC Tournament for the first time since 2014, ultimately finishing the season with an overall record of 18-2-4.

Gabi could sense early on that the Indians had something special. That little extra something propelled Guilford to a campaign for the ages.

“It started in our captains’ practices during the summer. We’d meet at the beach—yes, the beach—at 7 a.m. Most days, 45 girls showed up. We’d practice and do drills in the sand and in the water,” Gabi says. “We had great team chemistry. Everyone was treated the same, from the freshmen on up. We all accepted and took criticism. It made us stronger.”

Gabi’s father, Dennis Garcia, grew up in Ecuador and went on to play soccer at the University of New Haven and then semi-professionally. He’s coached on the youth and Olympic development levels in both Guilford and Hamden.

Gabi appreciates the influence that her dad has had on her game.

“I’m a coach’s kid. It’s a very different dynamic than you’ll find with most high school players,” Gabi says. “My dad was always tough. I had to work harder to get recognition. That was good. Once I got to high school, I knew my role within the team would be different. I needed to be a leader—to be accountable to myself, the coaching staff, and my other players.”

Gabi readily accepted that responsibility when she joined the high school squad. Interim co-Head Coach Rick Geremia says that Gabi displayed great leadership skills throughout her tenure with the team.

“Gabi is one of those kids who’s so passionate and devoted to the game. She’s been that way since she entered the high school program four years ago,” says Geremia. “This year, she gave us strong leadership. Gabi was the emotional spark that made this team go.”

Gabi loved playing the part of a fiery leader. She typically gave pregame speeches to get everyone’s competitive juices flowing.

“I’d be emotional. I’d quote lines from movies that I’d seen,” says Gabi. “I’d do whatever was necessary to get everybody fired up.”

After defeating Shelton in the SCC final, the Indians pulled off a series of dramatic wins on their way to claiming state gold. In the second round, Guilford posted a 2-1 victory versus Law after winning by a 5-3 score on penalty kicks. Gabi scored the decisive goal during the PK session.

Then in the semifinal round, Gabi converted another penalty kick to help the Indians get a 2-1 (3-1 on PKs) win against Suffield to advance to the final.

“It’s one of those times where you can never be nervous. It’s all about composure and finding the right spot to kick the ball,” Gabi says of PKs. “You have to perform. You’re in the spotlight.”

Of course, there is no bigger spotlight than a state championship game. Coach Geremia says that Gabi’s goal in the Class L final was truly a thing of beauty.

“It was highlight-reel material,” he says. “One of those upper-90 rocket shots that displayed Gabi’s exceptional abilities as a player.”

Gabi was selected as an SCC Scholar-Athlete this fall and has also earned her G Certificate coaching license. On top of that, she’s involved in integrated soccer programs with New Haven youth through Fair Haven Middle School.

“Our kids join their kids from the inner city and we share,” says Gabi. “I hope to some day be involved in non-profit organizations.”

Gabi is going to continue her soccer career at the collegiate level. Next year, Gabi will attend the University of New Haven, where she will play Division II soccer for the Chargers, while majoring in business management and minoring in economics.

“I’ve already been accepted. I’ve spent some time with the coach and the players,” Gabi says. “I wanted to stay local, because I’m a real family person.”


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