Like many young athletes, Brighton’s Rene Gangarosa hears the reminders from her parents about school work and being ready for practice.
“(They’ve) pushed me to be a great athlete,” she says.
But the 15-year-old already committed to Penn State for ice hockey has something figured out that a lot of high school sophomores don’t. “What it comes down to is the heart and effort you put into it,” says the 5-foot-9, 135-pound defender who plays attack for Brighton’s perennially tough girls lacrosse team. “If you don’t want to be better, then you’re not going to be better. It comes down to the drive you have.”
It comes from within.
Gangarosa played a regular shift for Brighton’s boys hockey team last winter. Three times a week this spring her days consisted of: waking up at 6 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. lacrosse practice; attending a full day of school; another lacrosse practice; squeezing in homework and dinner before driving nearly 90 minutes to Buffalo for a 90-minute practice with her girls club hockey team, the Niagara Purple Eagles.
Some practices started at 8 or 9 p.m. “Come home and restart,” she says.
That’s what it takes to not just be elite, but to remain that way.
“The hardest part isn’t getting there,” says Gangarosa, also an All-Greater Rochester tennis player and Section V Class A runner-up in doubles last fall with Olga Shvetsova. “It’s how you stay there. There’s times when you don’t want to continue, to keep going, because it hurts, you’re sore, but when you’re down that’s when you make the most strides.”
In an era when players and their families specialize more in one sport, trying to gain an edge to grab college scholarship dollars, three-sport athletes like Gangarosa are becoming more rare, particularly among students at large schools.
Different sports, skills
Gangarosa likes playing multiple sports and sees benefits from it, too. Gangarosa develops different skills from playing each and that has helped make her a more well-rounded athlete. Moves she developed as a youth Junior National champion in Judo help her in lacrosse and hockey. Staring across the tennis net or mat in Judo helped build a mental toughness she carries with her on the ice.
But there’s something else Ed Gangarosa thinks has boosted his daughter’s ascent.
“She’s one of those few kids who loves to practice,” says the 49-year-old who played football and basketball at Cardinal Mooney High in Greece and has coached Rene in judo and hockey. “She’s very coachable, too.”
He remembers in the judo days, which ended six years ago, he couldn’t yell out a move he thought Rene should try because her opponent would hear it too and counter it. So they used colors as code words for moves.
“I’m very competitive and have been since I was very young,” Rene says. “My favorite quote is: Practice doesn’t start until after practice. Really, it’s true. How you eat, how you sleep, doing all your homework — it all affects how you play.”
She learned more about nutrition and healthy living listening to a lecture last summer at a Team USA National Hockey Camp. She was one of the top scoring defenders in the invite-only camp. Gangarosa has improved her diet, limiting desserts, but chocolate chip pancakes remain her favorite breakfast item. Italian food is her favorite choice for dinner.
While she enjoys working out, running isn’t her favorite thing. That’s another reason she likes playing three sports, she says. She’s really never out of season, so she rarely has to experience the monotony of training without team practices or competition.
“I just think she loves to be an athlete,” says Brighton lacrosse coach Rich Curtis.
Rene doesn’t deny it. Her strong work ethic comes from her parents, Ed and Tammy, 47.
Soft-spoken most of the time, there’s also a little voice in Rene’s head and it’s not that of her parents or the Gangarosa family’s parrot, Henry, whose favorite phrase is “I’m a pretty bird.”
And her biggest fear, she says, is not being able to reach her “full potential.”
“I know (practice is) going to make me better and I want to do whatever I can to get better,” she says.
Her hockey vision
Checking is against the rules in girls and women’s hockey. That’s not the case when she plays against boys.
“Every once in a while someone tried to take a run at her and actually we corrected that pretty quickly,” says Parker Lawrence, a senior defenseman for Gangarosa’s high school team, a combined squad with players from the Brighton, East Rochester and Honeoye Falls-Lima districts.
And that subtle retaliation wasn’t even something teammates verbalized. They just knew and reacted. It made Gangarosa feel even more like part of the Barons’ hockey family even though she already played a regular shift.
She knew she couldn’t be “antsy with the puck,” or hold onto it too long or she’d be a target.
“She sees the ice better than most of the boys. She’s an incredible talent,” says Brendon Rothfuss, the Barons’ first-year coach last winter who was the 2007 All-Greater Rochester Player of the Year for Webster Thomas and played in college at Brockport. “She was very strong with the puck. She wasn’t afraid of taking the body or getting hit.”
Gangarosa had two goals and three assists on the season. She scored in a 4-1 win over Victor and 6-3 loss to Pittsford, teams that each went on to win sectional titles.
Rothfuss said during tryouts it was never in question whether Gangarosa could help his feisty team. The Barons went 9-3-1 after an 0-7 start. “It was how much can she excel at this level,” Rothfuss says.
She was recruited by several Division I colleges, including Princeton, Cornell, Connecticut and Quinnipiac, among others.
Her improved slap shot is a direct result of the effort she puts in, Rothfuss says.
“She had a really good shot coming into the season, but some of the boys at this level shot harder. Over the course of the year her shot got exponentially better,” he recalls. “By the end of the season, she was shooting harder than most of the guys on our team and in the league. It really speaks volumes to her work ethic. She’s relentless.”
Gangarosa says tennis has helped her become a better thinker in other sports.
“It’s all strategy,” she says about her shots moving an opponent from side to side and being patient until knowing when it’s the right time to go for a winner. “You have to be crafty.”
Tennis and judo were her first sports. She started judo at 3 and tennis at 5. She started hockey around the age of 5, too, but didn’t try lacrosse until 10.
Years ago, Helmut Reuckert, a neighbor of the Gangarosas, helped steer Rene toward team sports and not one so individualistic as judo. Ed Gangarosa remembers a conversation they had. Reuckert’s daughter played tennis at Brighton and had a great experience, making friends and being part of a team.
Practice for something like judo can be a “lonely sport,” Ed Gangarosa says, and more pressure. So he wanted his daughter to be on teams in tennis, hockey and lacrosse.
Playing multiple sports takes more than just cooperation from her parents, who also have to coordinate rides to hockey practice and school for her 10-year-old twin brothers, Carter and Nolan. Hockey commitments prevented her from going on Brighton’s spring lacrosse trip last month to Virginia, but she scored five goals in a 13-4 win Friday over Churchville-Chili and has seven goals in only three games.
With an athlete of her caliber in different sports, her lacrosse coach, Curtis says, “You have to be a little more understanding that you’re not going to get her every single minute, but you’re going to get her most of the time.”
Gangarosa, whose favorite hockey player is Jaromir Jagr, wants to be part of a championship team. She knows the rich history of Brighton lacrosse, which has won 13 sectional crowns, tops in Section V girls lacrosse. She also clicks with Curtis and his straightforward, brutally honest style.
“You’ve got to take the yelling part out and just listen to what he’s saying,” Ganagarosa says, “because everything Curtis says is constructive and he’s only trying to help you be a better player.”
And that’s her goal: Get better every practice, every game, every day.
“I think you have to work for everything you’re given,” she says.
Sports: Ice hockey, tennis, lacrosse.
Academics: 3.8 grade-point average.
Committed: Has given verbal commitment to play ice hockey for Penn State.
Club hockey: Niagara Purple Eagles Juniors. Was invited to Team USA National Hockey Camp last summer.
Family: Parents, Tammy and Ed; twin brothers, Nolan and Carter, 10.
Did you know? Played a regular shift on the Brighton/ER/HF-L boys ice hockey team last winter. The Barons went 9-3-1 after an 0-7 start.
Favorite athlete: Jaromir Jagr.
Favorite foods: Spaghetti, chicken parmesan, chocolate chip pancakes.
I Am Sport
I Am Sport celebrates young athletes across all sports by telling their stories of commitment, sacrifice, triumph, defeat and perseverance in their own voices. We believe everyday teens who devote their lives to sports are exceptional, and we recognize their effort.
Rene Gangarosa was selected from a pool of candidates across Gannett.