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Gambino makes the switch

by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor

Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union (@GMSPhotoWNY)

It’s been more than four years in the making, but St. Mary’s High School’s Gabby Gambino is about to realize her dream of playing Division I soccer.

After countless practices, games, and tournaments, Gambino will be taking her talents to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) as she will be playing for Clemson University.

“It is truly a dream come true to be able to play soccer at Clemson. I didn’t think something like this could have happened but I’m so excited that it did. I can’t wait to officially become a Tiger,” stated Gambino. “The most important part of the process was finding the place that felt like home, and for me that was Clemson. Everything during the pandemic was super challenging, but being injured it was sort of a plus for me. No one was practicing and colleges weren’t out recruiting so it gave me the time to fully recover.”

Gambino is the first one to tell that she lives to score goals. Ever since she has had the ball at her feet, Gambino was putting the ball in the back of the net. When she first got to St. Mary’s High School, Gambino was used to playing on the left wing.

There she could get in the right position to help her team win. It was a little switch, however, that made all the difference. St. Mary’s coach Brittany Heist knew what she had in Gambino, but she wanted her to be more.

Instead of playing on the wing in high school, Heist made the little switch of putting Gambino at center midfield. There she would be in control of the game, making plays both scoring and finding the right teammates on the passes.

“When I first started playing soccer I was a left winger who loved to score goals. When I started at St. Mary’s, Coach Britt knew I was a winger but wanted me to play center mid because she thought I could be more beneficial on the ball through the middle,” stated Gambino. “Ever since then, I have been playing midfield making plays, scoring goals, and defending in the middle of the field. Switching positions has evolved me as a complete player.”

Heist has been a great addition to the St. Mary’s program. She has been able to transform the program in just a couple of season. Heist knows that it takes when it comes to getting ready for college. After her high school career at Lancaster High School, Heist went onto play at Boston University.

She uses those experiences to push Gambino both on and off the pitch.

“Brittany has been a super important person in my life from the first day I met her,” stated Gambino. “She has pushed me to be the person and player I am today and I have looked up to her for such a long time.”

Gambino knows a lot will be on her shoulders when she leaves St. Mary’s and heads down to Clemson. She is a very decorated high school player - receiving accolades ever since she stepped foot on the pitch.

She also knows that with success comes pressure. While the pressure can get to a lot of players, Gambino has a lot of confidence in herself that she can compete at the highest level - with the best players in the country.

All she has to do is look at some of the other Western New York players that went on to play at big schools like Ole Miss, Pittsburg and others.

“There does seem to be a lot of pressure going to Clemson, one way I don’t let it get to me when I’m playing is just having confidence. Confidence is an important part of your game because if you don’t believe you can do it, no one else will,” stated Gambino. “The mental side of the game is just as important as physical side. During my injury I actually had a lot of time to work on it. Sitting on the sidelines I was able to watch the game from a different perspective than being on the field. I learned how important it was to communicate and know what your going to do before you get the ball. The speed of play at the college level is a lot faster, so recognizing this now will be super helpful going into Clemson.”

Gambino should be used to the fast play as she has been playing her club soccer with the Western New York Flash, the premier club team in WNY. Playing , and training, with the Flash has helped Gambino take her game to the next level.

Playing against elite competition in the ECNL, and helping her team to the National Championship in Florida over the summer, has helped her build that confidence she needs to compete next year as a freshman.

“Flash has been a really important part of my development as a soccer player. One thing I have taken away from them is to always give it 110%. You should be training game like so when you step onto the field you are prepared,” stated Gambino. “It is important to be focused and ready because every game in the ECNL you have to work for. It was one of the best things that could’ve happened for the Flash. It has given all of the players great opportunities to play with and against some of the best kids in the country. It has allowed us to get great college exposure so we can continue playing in college at the next level.”

It’s just not soccer with Gambino. She knows the academic side is just as important as the soccer when she goes to Clemson. Gambino knows the important of what it takes to me a student-athlete.

St. Mary’s has taught her how to manage her time - and that will help her when practice, games, lifting and school all come together at once.

“St. Mary’s has been a really good place to get me ready for the college life. We take a leadership class that runs through important tools to get through college,” stated Gambino. “The most important to me has been learning about time management. You don’t have much free time with soccer and traveling to away games, so I have been learning how to be disciplined with my work and not procrastinating things. This will be helpful so I don’t fall behind in school and will still be getting a good education.”

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