The idea of knowing 12 yards can separate joy from agony is pretty sobering.
But when Grapevine girls soccer sophomore forward Bri Gajewski stepped to the mark in the seventh round of sudden-death penalty kicks, she had to beat a tougher element — her emotions.
On the outside, Gajewski is known for carrying a very stoic demeanor. Few would know how much she’s dealing with inside.
“Being very strong comes naturally,” she said. “But at the same time, there’s a lot going on inside my head. I have a lot more going on. If I look at someone who is freaking out, then I most likely will. I just try to keep everything calm.”
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However, everything ratcheted up a bit when the door opened against Wichita Falls in the Class 5A Region I playoff this past Friday in Mineral Wells. Old High’s striker missed her shot as it hit the cross bar. It was Gajewski’s turn to step to the mark and survey the gap between the ball and the back of the net.
With no room to spare, Gajewski had to be perfect and was. Her shot to the right side grazed the post, just beyond the reach of Old High keeper Erin Smith. It settled into the side net.
Jubilation followed as Grapevine (18-3) was into the regional quarterfinal round again when it faced Wichita Falls Rider Tuesday in Mineral Wells. It’s not a bad narrative when you’re coming off the bench or are the seventh choice to take a make or break kick.
“I knew [Smith] could dive a long way, so I knew had to place it perfectly,” Gajewski said. “I kept my head down. The only distraction I had was the ball. I had enough confidence. I knew I had to be there for my team. They worked too hard.”
Gajewski felt the sorrow of last year when Grapevine fell to Frisco Centennial in the 5A state championship. The Lady Mustangs lost on penalty kicks. So there was a little redemption with this game winner. At the very least, it kept the state tournament hopes alive for another round.
Versatility is what Grapevine head coach Steve McBride values with Gajewski. Typically a defender for her club team, McBride has used her in the front line at forward. He’s even rotated her back to defense.
He’s also started her and brought her off the bench. In the postseason, Gajewski has been coming off the bench. Thus far, she has six goals and six assists.
“You could call her a problem solver,” McBride said. “She’s versatile and a great athlete. When you can put her up top and then exploit what she can do at the back line, it makes your team that much stronger. Bri is tough.”
Experience has been a great teacher for Gajewski as she has grown through this season. She credits McBride for challenging her to play a different position. She called it coming out of her comfort zone. The same goes for how she is used during a game.
“It’s not bad to not start because all of us are equally talented,” Gajewski said. “Each of us has a component to bring. I think I can help spread a team out and cross the ball to our other forwards. That’s what helps the chemistry. I just want to keep contributing to it.”