story by Joe Nicolo '22
GLASSBORO, NJ - There are some people in this world who tend to leave a lasting impact on everyone and everything in their path. Anyssa Sanchez is one of those people. Rowan University is one of those places lucky enough to have been included in her journey and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is certainly next on the list. After playing for and coaching the women's basketball team at Rowan, Sanchez landed a job as the Director of Basketball Operations at NJIT.
Hailing from Pine Hill and attending Sterling High School, Sanchez earned 12 letter awards in basketball, track & field and volleyball. After graduating, she decided to continue her basketball career as a Prof. Immediately, Sanchez had big dreams for the program at the University. The team struggled her freshman year, only winning six games and as a result, this was the first time she missed the playoffs in her basketball career. However, Sanchez’s leadership helped catapult the team to success the following three years. She capped off her playing career with a fantastic senior campaign.
She led the Profs in points (17.7 ppg), rebounds (7.6 rpg), steals (75) and field goal percentage (.521) her senior season. When all was said and done, Sanchez racked up New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) All-Conference first and second team honors. She was named NJAC Player of the Week three times and was chosen the Player of the Year by the Albert J. Carino Girls Basketball Club.
After graduating, Sanchez knew she wasn’t done with the sport just yet. She went on to play in Puerto Rico’s most competitive women’s basketball league, the Baloncesto Superior Nacional Femenino and in 2019 she was named Sixth Man of the Year. Her experience there shaped the way she thought about the sport. The new perspective was something she values immensely as a coach.
“It’s an eye opener to be able to learn a different style, learn from different players and how they coordinate,” Sanchez said. “I think that definitely gave me an opportunity to open up my perspective a little bit and see things from a different angle as a player and a coach.”
With that new found perspective, Sanchez headed back to her alma mater as an assistant coach under Demetrius Poles for the 2019-20 season. As a player, a NJAC championship was within an arm's reach, but the Profs just couldn’t grab it. Sanchez knew she had a job to finish.
As an assistant coach, Sanchez worked on individual player development, film breakdown and planning monthly strength and conditioning regimens for the players. She knew that as a former student-athlete, she would be relatable, even without having known any of the current athletes. That perspective, combined with her experience playing professionally in Puerto Rico, made her an integral part of the staff.
With a team full of new faces, Sanchez helped guide the team to the program’s seventh NJAC title and first since 1998-99. Sanchez explains, “Being able to be a part of that season, whether it be staff or a player and accomplishing what we did, really impacted the program as a whole. It was something that was so great to be a part of and we really emphasized that to the girls, to let them know they're trailblazers to the program.”
The championship brought Sanchez’s time at Rowan full circle and capped off an amazing career as a Prof.
Sanchez is now a Highlander at NJIT. She was presented with an opportunity she just could not turn down. Although it was tough to leave Rowan, she knew this was not something she could pass up. Last November, Sanchez became the Director of Women’s Basketball and is looking to bring the same successes to Newark as she did to her alma mater.
This new position brings a similar set of responsibilities for Sanchez compared to what she did as an assistant coach at Rowan. It’s a team effort among the coaching staff, but Sanchez is in charge of essentially all things basketball. Everything from assisting in the coordination of game preparations, to managing and overseeing daily tasks to ensure each day is run as smooth and productive as possible, falls under Sanchez. Additionally, she makes a monthly calendar for the student-athletes and the rest of the staff to follow, so that everyone is on the same page at all times.
Much of the women’s basketball program is dependent on successful and seamless work from Sanchez. Although, it hardly feels overwhelming thanks to the staff, players and overall environment she’s a part of. In fact, she cites the community as one of her favorite things about this new opportunity.
“As soon as I started here it was such a welcoming program,” Sanchez says. “Constantly hands-on, trying to help me get accommodated and situated. It really emphasized how important it is to be unified.”
That unity is something the Highlanders need in order to be successful this season and in the future. While the program hasn’t had a winning season since 2012-13 (which also happened to be their most recent conference title), the team is not too far from competing for the top spot. Going into the season with unity as a focus provides a great start for the program’s turnaround.
“Although we may be of different ages and come from different backgrounds, we have one thing in common and that is the love and passion for the game,” Sanchez explains. A team that comes together with a common goal and mentality can become unstoppable. It looks like they're on their way to becoming a collective unit.
The Highlanders just entered the America East Conference and that change of scenery may be just what the team needs to get them over the hump. A fresh start in a different conference with new staff members and some new opponents, may mark the beginning of a revamped basketball program at NJIT. Above all else the best news is, Anyssa Sanchez is not one to shy away from a challenge. If history has taught us anything, it’s only a matter of time before Sanchez helps lead this team to a conference title as well.