Linnea Gonzales: Family Matters
FIELD HOCKEY HOME
Linnea Gonzales was meant to be a Terp from a young age.
The frequent visits to field hockey games in College Park. A reconnection
with a friend who she’s teamed with often in recent years.
And, of course, the proximity to home and a tight-knit family, unquestionably the
most important thing in Maryland freshman forward Linnea Gonzales’ life.
It’s a perfect convergence for the Bel Air, Md., native who is wasting no time making an
impact after arriving on campus this summer after coveting the chance to play for
coach Missy Meharg for more than half of her life.
“They were always so good and so passionate about the sport that I always wanted to be around it,” Gonzales said. “I started being a ball girl one game, and just the connection with the girls --- I fell in love with it. Then I met Missy and I thought ‘Oh my God, this is awesome,’ because she loves the game just as much as we do.”
And Gonzales is as invested as can be in the sport. She grew up watching her older sister Abby play at the youth level and was enchanted at the combination of speed and skill required for success. While Abby Gonzales stopped playing before long, Linnea arrived at Maryland with the chance to become a deeply influential player for the storied program.
Already named a member of the United States under-21 team for next year’s Women’s Junior World Cup in Chile, the 17-year-old has developed while keeping a close eye on the stars of a perennial national title contender.
Her favorite player while growing up? Katie O’Donnell, the four-time All-American and Honda Award winner at Maryland. With her frequent trips to Maryland games, Gonzales said she has five sticks signed by O’Donnell at home.
And she’s picked up more than memorabilia from the former Maryland star.
“A lot of times, I asked her ‘Where did you learn that?” said Angel Gonzales, Linnea’s father. “She’d say ‘I got that from Katie O’Donnell.’ She’s been a big influence.”
Gonzales also caught the attention of Maryland’s staff as her game continued to mature. Here was a budding talent with an affinity for the Terrapins, and it was clear to Meharg that Gonzales could be a pivotal piece for the program for four years.
Gonzales had grown up with Maryland, attending games and camps from age 6. It only made sense for that to continue.
“She was always on this campus,” Meharg said. “As soon as it was possible for me to let her know just how much we’d love to have her at Maryland as a student, as an athlete and to possibly be one of the best forwards ever to play here, the reality was such.”
For her part, Gonzales was ecstatic at the possibility --- for many reasons.
“It was like a dream come true,” Gonzales said. “I couldn’t believe it. My dad did the negotiation, but when he told me it was a full scholarship, that’s a dream. You get to play here on the field with the girls, that’s amazing. I still can’t believe it.”
“I started being a ball girl one game, and just the connection with the girls --- I fell in love with it. Then I met Missy and I thought ‘Oh my God, this is awesome,’ because she loves the game just as much as we do.”
- Linnea Gonzales on her connection
to the Maryland Field Hockey
program from an early age
At any of Linnea Gonzales’ games, it’s not hard to pick out her biggest fan --- her 20-year-old brother Landon.
Her story and his are deeply intertwined, to the point it determined where she would attend high school. Landon Gonzales is autistic, and Patterson Mill High School offers a specific program for autistic students. While the Gonzales family didn’t live within Patterson Mill’s boundaries, she chose to go there to help her brother.
“I like having his back,” Linnea Gonzales said. “He’ll always come to my games. He’s a big part of my life. Everything I do, I think of him. I want to do well for him.”
It meant taking on far greater responsibility than a typical high school student, but it was also unsurprising considering the Gonzales family’s tight bond.
Abby Gonzales was responsible for after-school care at times when she was in high school, and Angel Gonzales said Linnea was an important “safety valve” when she was in high school.
“Her father and her mother are very disciplined people,” Meharg said. “They’re very giving people. With their situation with Landon, everybody has a role and everybody is a parent in their own way. Linnea has that characteristic.”
In the process, it’s caused Linnea Gonzales to more greatly appreciate the opportunities in front of her.
“I think it makes them realize how blessed they are to have what they do as far as basic cognition and being able to listen and learn and understand,” Angel Gonzales said. “I think both my daughters know that now but didn’t in the beginning. For them, it’s been important for that growth.”
As much as playing for her favorite program held its appeal, Linnea had another big reason for wanting to join the Terps. College Park is just an hour down the road from her home, and proximity is important.
It means Landon will be a fixture at Maryland games for the next four years. And it means she will remain in close contact with her parents and siblings.
“I’m a family girl,” she said. “I love my family. I get homesick a lot, too, and it means a lot to have their support on the field and off the field. I didn’t want to be too far from home.”
That’s a win from Gonzales’ parents and Landon, who have savored their time around the sport as Linnea’s career has taken her to camps and competitions around the country.
“Maryland and field hockey for Linnea and the family has been pretty much therapeutic,” Angel Gonzales said. “It kept us very busy. We tried to show what consistency can lead to and we tried to show what dedication can lead to. I believe she’s starting to experience that. The travel’s been good for Landon, being on airplanes and buses. It’s been therapeutic.”
“I like having his back He’ll always come to my games. He’s a big part of my life. Everything I do, I think of him. I want to do well for him.”
- Linnea Gonzales on her relationship with her brother, Landon.
It took barely a dozen minutes before Linnea Gonzales registered her first career goal in Maryland’s season-opening defeat of Temple last Friday. By the time the Terps’ two-game opening weekend was complete, Gonzales had four goals and Maryland was off to a 2-0 start.
It led to her first college honor --- Big Ten freshman of the week --- and offered a glimpse of an extensive skillset.
Meharg said in the preseason the 5-foot-9 Gonzales will play forward, but it is possible she will spend time as an attacking midfielder because of how deftly she can connect the midfield to the forward line.
“She has a variety of shooting skillsets,” Meharg said. “Her hands are absolutely so soft. She can manipulate a defender, she can eliminate people, she can the turn the ball on a dime and take a shot from a variety of positions and she’s exceedingly long so she can counterdefend, get the ball and go herself. She’s very difficult to play against as a back coming out.”
Sophomore defender Carrie Hanks, a teammate not only at Maryland but also in the Junior Olympics and on next year’s Junior World Cup squad, recalled being instantly impressed with Gonzales’ passing ability when they first met a few years ago.
She also offered a succinct description of Gonzales’ game: “Crafty with the ball, but she also has very strong fundamentals.” It’s a superb combination that figures to help Maryland --- and the under-21 national team --- in the years to come.
“She was on the team last year, and I remember thinking she deserves it more than any forward that I’ve played with,” Hanks said. “She may be younger, but you can just tell she has a good game sense and she knows what’s expected of her. Even if she doesn’t do it right the first time that she knows ‘This is what I need to fix.’”
The early returns suggest Gonzales’ fit at Maryland is just as good as anticipated, and Meharg is eager to see just how much the freshman will grow in the coming months and years.
“Age is age, but expectation and playing to your ceiling is important,” Meharg said. “I know I’m always speaking with her about the grit and the desire. She is very long and she is very fluid and she is a really pretty player. But she has to get down and dirty, and she knows I’m always on her about that grit and character piece.”
There should be little question about how well-defined Gonzales’ priorities are. Between playing for the school she grew up following and remaining close to home, she is furthering her athletic career while continuing to balance the most important things in her life.
And whenever any 17-year-old can do that, it’s likely she will meet the goals she has set out for herself for the near-future.
“Definitely help the team, win a national championship and evolve as a player, too,” Gonzales said. “Eventually, I want to be on the actual national team and just develop my skills more and become more aware of the game and get a good education.”
“A lot of times, I asked her ‘Where did you learn that?' She’d say ‘I got that from Katie O’Donnell (pictured above with Linnea).’ She’s been a big influence.”
- Angel Gonzales, Linnea's father
Linnea Gonzales: Family Matters is a special presentation of umterps.com.
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