Chat With a Champion: Gabby Zuczek

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Max Druckman, Editor

Following varsity girl’s soccer’s state championship win over Union, the Patriot Press interviewed one of the team’s star seniors, Gabby Zuczek.

What position do you play?

I play center back. I’ve always been a center midfielder (both attacking and defending), but my junior year Coach Patterson asked me to play center back in the first game of the season and for the last two years of my high school career I’ve been a center back.

Why do you like that position and what is the most challenging aspect of playing that position?

What I like most about this position is the ability to create a play from so far back on the field. I feel that some of the time defenders don’t get as much credit as they should. Sometimes games come down to defenders just shutting out the opponent’s forwards and making them unable to score. I like the excitement of playing good forwards and being able to help the team come out with a win.

What do you like best about soccer?

What I like best about soccer is the team aspect of the sport. The fact that the sport is won and lost by eleven players is something that has always stood out to me. I always grew up knowing that you win and lose as a team.

Who was your personal and professional inspiration to start playing soccer?

I didn’t really have a personal inspiration to start playing soccer. My parents had me doing multiple things as I grew up so I could experience everything and then choose what I liked the most which ended up being soccer. But a personal inspiration of mine with everything in life is my dad. I strive to make him proud in everything I do, my biggest fear is letting him down. He went to the same college I will be going to, High Point University, and played Division I baseball there, so he knows a thing or two about being a great athlete. My professional inspiration was Abby Wambach. She is a true soccer legend; I always grew up watching her play and always trying to be like her on the field. Since I was always the tallest growing up my ability to head a soccer ball was born at a young age. I’ll always remember what my elementary school gym teacher said to me, “Gabby you will be the next Abby Wambach”, and from that day forward I truly wanted to be like her. Although I am not a forward I feel that I implement her skills in my style of play; I’m never one to shy away from a head ball.

What do you like to do in the offseason?

I personally like to amp my training up in the offseason. I was always taught that the offseason is your best friend. This is the time to sharpen up your skills, to fix things you didn’t like that you did during your fall season, and to make sure that your spring season is better than the last season. In the offseason, you can find me training with my academy team, PDA Freedom, in the gym at Planet Fitness, at my cross-fit gym SETS, or even (weather permitting) in my own backyard, working on my technique, my strength, or fitness.

What is something interesting that people don’t know about you?

Something interesting about me is I used to be petrified of dogs when I was growing up. It wasn’t till the summer of when I was 10 years old when I decided I wanted to get over my fear of dogs. How would I do that? I asked my family if we could get a dog and we instantly got into the car and drove to a shelter where I fell in love with a baby Shih Tzu. My family knew this dog was THE dog; we signed all the papers then and there and waited a few days for her to get all her shots since she was only a few weeks old. From that day I had just gained another best friend, except this best friend had four paws. We named her Lola and ever since then she has been a ball of energy and a positive aspect of my entire family’s lives. Her favorite thing is car rides- no matter the destination she will want to be in that car with you sticking her head out the window while she sits in her car seat.

Do you have any pregame rituals or superstitions?

A pregame ritual of mine is to never warm up in my jersey. I always wear a different shirt during warm-ups and then right before we go onto the field I’ll change into my jersey. You also won’t see my going into the first half of the game without a piece of gum in my mouth- usually throwing it out at halftime. These are the two things I do at every game I have.

What are you going to miss the most about FTHS?

I’m going to miss the atmosphere at sporting events at Freehold Township. I truly believe we have the best student section in the Shore Conference. Playing any kind of game, division, Shore Conference, or state game, our student/fan section is incredible. Whether I’m playing in the game or a part of the student/fan section I think the energy and vibe Freehold Township brings to any sporting event is unmatched.

What is your favorite school subject and why?

My favorite school subject is science, specifically the honors anatomy and physiology class I am currently taking. I’ve always wanted to be a physical therapist and it’s something I strive to accomplish as I get older. This class is the first step in me reaching that goal. I think everything I’ve learned and will be learning about as the school year goes on is so interesting. This is a class you’ll never get bored in. I also think my teacher, Mrs. Kropa, helps out in making this class very enjoyable; she keeps the class fun with different activities. We do something new every class throughout the week.

What is your favorite type of music and who is your favorite musician?

My favorite type of music is country music. I used to absolutely hate it but then when my dad started to play it more and more in our car rides or even in the house I started to like it. I think I also like it so much because it’s something that brings my dad and I closer. We do this thing where we sing along to our favorite country songs and I’ll record us singing and he’ll post it on his Facebook. He calls it Friday Funny Carpool Karaoke with G. My favorite country artist is Luke Combs; he hasn’t created one song that I don’t love or don’t know the words to. But, if we’re talking favorite type of game music, it would have to be rap. My favorite rapper is Juice Wrld. I think his music just truly hypes you up for any game, whether it be a regular-season game or a tournament game. If I feel that I don’t have the energy I need for a game I can always count on an upbeat Juice Wrld song to bring my energy up.

What is your favorite pregame snack or meal?

I don’t like to eat before games but I know I need to have something in my system before I play or I won’t have any energy, so my favorite pregame snack would have to be some type of Belvita snack. Right now I’ve been eating the chocolate Belvita sandwich with ice-cold water before games.

Do you have a favorite hobby outside of soccer?

My favorite hobbies outside soccer are going on long bike rides with my family, going on hikes, or going to the beach in the summertime. I don’t like to sit still much so you can find me always doing something that requires movement. Something else I like to do is go on adventures – whether that be I get in the car and drive to a place I’ve never been before or go down to the beach and run through areas I’ve never run through before. I love experiencing new things and exploring new places.

What is the key to being a good captain?

I think the key to being a good captain is keeping yourself accountable. How can you ask your teammates to do something that you aren’t doing? I like to lead by example; the more you do the right things the more people will follow in that direction. I also believe that communication is a big aspect; directing the team, keeping the focus maintained at practice, motivating people to do better or continue working hard, and keeping it fun. Yes, there is a time when it should be all business but the sport you play should be fun so I’ll crack a joke or two from time to time to lighten the mood if needed.

What was the most memorable moment this season?

I think the most memorable moment from this season was the East Brunswick game (the semi-final game of the state tournament). I truly think we ALL came together as a team to walk away with that win. Throughout the whole game, we were focused and were working so hard all over the field. It took the full 80 minutes plus two 10 minute golden goal periods and a full round of penalty kicks to walk away with that win. A true TEAM win that day. We knew from the moment we won that game tthat we could walk away with a state championship this year.

How do you feel during a penalty shootout?

I used to be comfortable during a penalty shootout until I had my PK saved in a semi-final game my junior year. My confidence level with PKs immediately sunk to the ground. I’ve been working hard to bring my confidence up to what it once was. I say I’m about 75% of the way back to what it used to be and with time I’ll be back to 100%.

How did the atmosphere of the team change (or stay the same) during the playoffs?

I think we knew from the moment we came together in the summer that this team had the ability to win a state championship this year so I think that fueled us throughout the season. However, once the postseason hit, I think it really hit us that we had the opportunity to do something great. For the two weeks we had with postseason we were all business, especially since we knew we were lucky to have had what we had this year with COVID-19 being a factor.

What made this year’s team special?

I think the fact that we were so senior heavy made this team special. We’ve all been playing with each other for at least four years so we didn’t have to worry so much about finding team chemistry on the field just from knowing how 17 of us played already. We did have six amazing underclassmen on the team as well and they fit in perfectly; three of them were already on the varsity team prior to this year so they already knew how most of us played. I really have to give props to our three freshmen that came into the team this year and joined in on this team’s chemistry. You would think this team had been playing together for over a year together and not just a couple of months.

What was the most challenging part of playing during the pandemic?

The most challenging part of playing during this pandemic is that you never know when it’ll be over for you. Throughout this season we had to shut down once for two weeks due to COVID-19. My dad always told me as I was growing up to play like it’s your last game ever because you never know when it could suddenly be over; you don’t know what the future may hold.

Was there a “low point” to the season?

I think the “low point” of the season is when we lost our first and only game against Middletown South the first time we played them this season. We were up 2-0 at the half and lost 3-2 in overtime. We didn’t know what it felt like to lose this season so it put a sour taste in our mouths. But, in all honesty, I wouldn’t completely call this a low point because it pushed us to practice harder and to play better when we faced them again, in which we ended up beating them 2-1 in overtime.

Congrats again on the championship, Gabby! Good luck at High Point! Township is rooting for you!