November 1, 2016
By Christopher Sich
The sun slowly rose on a warm summer day in Miami. It was Saturday morning in 1999 and the streets were quiet. Four-year-old Gabriel Gongora lay motionless next to his mother as he slept, ignoring the commotion that surrounded the apartment building. The bright sunlight shined through the three windows of the bedroom, illuminating every corner of the room. He slowly cracked open one eye as the sweet scent of arepas filled the air. A staple of the Colombian cuisine, made with simple ingredients: arepa flour, water, cheese, and a pinch of salt. But the delicious scent that filtered into the room was special. It was not just anyone cooking breakfast, it was his father.
Every Saturday morning his father would wake up early to prepare arepas, and Gabriel would wait to awake until the sweet scent of his father’s arepas reached his nose. But the morning would not be complete without one thing, soccer (fútbol).
He woke up from his slumber to eat his father’s arepas, and to watch on TV the sport he love; the sport he continues to love to this very day. This memory is one of many that influenced the 2015 Dominican University male athlete of the year, Gabriel Gongora.
Along with being named the 2015 male athlete of the year, Gongora was also named 2015 Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC) Defensive Player of the Year and garnered first team All-American honors. He has a career goals against average of 0.85 and has continues his great play this season. Gongora lowered his NACC-best goals against average to 0.59 this past week after earning a shutout against Edgewood College earning him athlete of the week honors.
“Soccer is a sport that I love and it’s nice to get a return,” Gongora said. “It helps me appreciate the game and myself.”
On top of his personal success, last week the Dominican University men’s soccer team earned their 10th NACC regular season championship in program history. But all of this success was a lifetime in the making.
Gongora began playing soccer when he was three-years-old and his first team was Pembrook Pines where he began his goalkeeping career.
“I was born in Miami, lived there for 10 years, and in Miami I played on Pembrook Pines and Weston,” Gongora said. “Then I moved to Colombia with my family, but after two years we moved to Naperville, Illinois, where I currently live. In Naperville I played goalie on two club teams, the Galaxy and Ajax.”
According to Gongora he played goalie his whole life, and the reason why he started liking playing goalie as a kid was because he enjoyed diving around on the ground. He grew up in a soccer environment and grew up living and breathing soccer.
Gongora’s love for the game grew in part due to his Colombian heritage.
“My Colombian heritage means everything to me,” Gongora said. “It influences my passion for soccer. Being Colombian brings passion to the game.”
His passion for the game helped his growth as an athlete, but he could not have grown into the athlete and person he is today without the support of his dad, coaches, and teammates.
“My dad has helped me a lot and has been a hug influence in my life,” Gongora said. “Coach Baumann has also helped me grow a lot as a person and has helped me grow my leadership skills. Lastly, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done without my teammates. My teammates are everything and the reason why I play, they rely on me and I don’t want to let them down.”
Gongora is a senior and is playing his final year of collegiate soccer, and even though his last game of the season will be bittersweet, he will leave the game with no regrets.
“I don’t plan on playing soccer after I graduate, so the last game of this season will also be my last game, but I will leave the sport with no regrets,” Gongora said. “I am more than satisfied with my soccer career. These past four years playing soccer at Dominican has given me memories that will last a lifetime. I have enjoyed every moment.”
According to Gongora, these past four years have been memorable thanks to seniors Marco Tello, Zack Venzon, Frankie Saiz, Alex Rohder and Andrés Garcia, teammates and classmates that have always supported him.
“I want to thank these five teammates and friends for all their hard-work over the past four years, and for supporting and sticking with the soccer program,” Gongora said.
With the men’s soccer team in the conference tournament, the amount of games left in the season is less each day. It will be heart breaking when Gongora plays his last game, but he will continue to love soccer.
“It will be heart breaking when I play my last game because I am happiest when I am on the soccer field, but I will leave the game knowing I gave 110 percent,” Gongora said. “I may not play goalie competitively again, but I will continue to play this beautiful game whenever I have the chance.”
A soccer career full of personal accolades and championships will soon come to an end, and to think that for Gongora it all began with arepas con fútbol.