Her life changed forever at the age of 10.
So young, yet old enough to understand, Sandra Yu realized her life would never be the same when her father, Gerard, passed away from a heart attack at 51 years old.
Gerard Yu left behind his wife, Barbara, and five children who at the time were between the ages of 10 and 19.
Seven years later, Sandra and her family remember Gerard and honor him any way they can.
Sandra has developed into a top student with a 4.25 cumulative grade-point average and an All-American high school soccer player at Walsh Jesuit. She has an athletic scholarship waiting for her at the University of Notre Dame.
“It has definitely been hard, but having a bigger family has made it easier,” Yu said. “We support each other. Being the youngest, my siblings have helped me, and we have all been there to support our mom. My mom has been very strong. She does so much for me and all my siblings. We all have basically helped each other through it. My brother has really stepped up too. He is the oldest.”
Sandra’s four siblings — Jason (26), Ashley (24), Nicole (22) and Cheryl (20) — are all Walsh Jesuit graduates and were athletes in various sports. The four are college educated, too.
Gerard had a successful career as a podiatrist based in North Olmsted.
“He wasn’t the type of dad to push me or my siblings, but he went to all of our games and cheered and took pictures,” Yu said. “He would support us, but he realized sports wasn’t the only thing in the world.”
Yu, a 5-foot-4 Strongsville resident, is a center midfielder for Walsh who can also play forward. The Warriors are ranked No. 1 in the Division II state coaches poll with an 8-0-2 overall record.
“Sandra comes from a great family,” Walsh coach Dino McIntyre said. “They are very tight, and they all support each other. They all come to her games, no matter where it is, home or away. That certainly helps. They are genuine people. They make her feel real good and she makes them all proud. You can just see it. When we go and get a bite to eat after a game you will see them around. That helps her be so mentally strong.”
Yu has 41 goals and 40 assists in her four-year career at Walsh that includes a junior year limited by injuries.
“Sandra can play at the midfield or up top,” McIntyre said. “She is a true center midfielder. The first year, she played center mid and outside mid. Sophomore year, when we won the whole thing [in Division I], she was an outside mid. She was such a threat as a goal scorer.
“Last year she missed the first two-thirds of the season due to injury and came back for the playoffs.”
Yu, who turns 18 on Nov. 5, said a back and hip injuries kept her out for all but six matches last season. She played in Walsh’s first match and then the five postseason matches in the Division II tournament, which ended with Walsh as a state semifinalist. The injury stemmed from her sophomore year but is now “under control.”
“Sandra is very aggressive, but it’s controlled aggression,” McIntyre said. “She gets the ball and loves to run at people and take them on one-on-one. She is very crafty in tight spaces and her athleticism is impressive. It allows her to jump, land and take off very quickly. Where as with most of us it would take a couple of seconds.
“Sandra has great soccer knowledge and the will to win too. She is very technical and good with both feet. She is a good finisher and great in the air, which is a big plus. She is one of the most complete players that we have had at Walsh.”
Yu has seven goals and eight assists this season.
“She scored the game-winning goals against Solon and Mentor Lake Catholic, and scored the game-tying goals against Dublin Coffman and North Royalton,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre recalls the recent 2-2 draw with North Royalton where Yu sprinted all over the pitch like usual. Her effort resulted in a penalty kick after she was tripped in the box with nine seconds to go. She buried the kick into the net for a goal to tie the score.
“She works so hard physically and mentally,” McIntyre said. “When you watch her, you can look at her and see she has nothing left after the games. She has done that for four years.
“I remember telling the kids after the North Royalton game, Sandra is going to go to Notre Dame and there will be players that are faster than her, bigger than her and stronger than her, but when it comes to heart and desire, there are no comparisons. I remember driving home that day, and all I was thinking was am I doing enough for these kids? It was crazy seeing what she did that night.”
McIntyre also thought of an old conversation with Yu.
“Sandra told me years ago she wanted to leave her mark on the Walsh girls soccer program, and on that night she pretty much etched her spot in our history,” McIntyre said.
Yu also hopes to leave a legacy at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish first expressed an interest in Yu during the summer of 2010, and by November of that year she gave an oral commitment. She can sign a national letter of intent in February.
“Notre Dame was really the only place I wanted to go,” said Yu, who is considering studying pre-med or physical therapy in college.
Yu will carry the memory of her father to South Bend and everywhere else life takes her.
“That kind of shaped me into who I am,” Yu said. “I work hard. I had to mature quicker because of what happened. I play every game for my dad, and I certainly realize how important my mom is to me.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.