Humans of St. Thomas introduces us to some of the incredible members of the St. Thomas community. Read about more of our fellow Tommies here.
St. Thomas women’s soccer has been flying high in recent seasons – figuratively and literally.
The Tommies’ last five teams have claimed four MIAC championships and earned four NCAA playoff berths. Their overall record in that span of 77-17-11 includes a 49-9-6 mark against conference opponents. The 2019 team tied for fifth place nationally in Division III.
A high school graduate of Sky View Academy, an acclaimed public charter school in the south suburbs of Denver, Colorado, Palazzo is also an aspiring pilot. She has already accumulated nearly 20 flight hours toward her requirement to receive her license.
“Flying a plane is a super fun experience,” Palazzo said. “Other than the landing process, flying is almost easier to learn than driving a car. It’s so interesting when you are in control in such a tiny plane.”
When she’s not playing soccer or making the dean’s list in her mechanical engineering major, Palazzo is busy in her fourth year on campus as a cadet captain in St. Thomas’ Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) detachment.
That ROTC option was one of the positives that attracted her to St. Thomas.
“As a Colorado native, I was looking to go to college out of state,” Palazzo said. “The dad of one of my high school teammates went to St. Thomas, and when I looked into the university, I learned it had a really good Air Force ROTC program, ranked No. 1 academically nationwide. I knew St. Thomas had a good soccer team, too. I just love being here, it’s a great school.”
Palazzo will soon learn her ROTC career path for the coming few years as Air Force careers are finalized.
“You submit your preferences and have a little bit of input, but ultimately your assignment is up to the Air Force,” she said. “You earn a score based on your grade-point average, your fitness level, your ranking with your peers, and any flight hours you have accumulated. I would love to be a pilot or a navigator. But there are also roles in intelligence or engineering that would be rewarding.”
Whatever ROTC assignment Palazzo lands, she’s prepared to spend a minimum of four years after graduation serving with the Air Force, with overseas deployments likely.
In the meantime, Palazzo and her Tommie soccer teammates are waiting to see what a 2021 spring schedule might look like. There are tentative plans for MIAC soccer, volleyball and football teams to play reduced schedules in March and April. If the spring season indeed happens, Tommie women’s soccer will bring a 17-game unbeaten streak (12-0-5) into 2021.
After that, a 2021 fall sports season won’t be far behind. For McGill’s Tommies, that means their debut in NCAA Division I and the beginning of their affiliation in the Summit League.
“This year with the effects of COVID, it’s definitely been frustrating,” Palazzo said. “But you can only control what’s controllable. We did get some practices in this fall, but it felt more like an off season. I try to bring intensity and a hard work ethic to the team. I had an idea this fall to set up a fitness challenge for our players. I know if we all work hard together, it makes us better as a group.”
A defender on the field, Palazzo has played in 27 consecutive games over the last two seasons, and the Toms are 19-2-6 over that span.
Last season, she assisted on the game-winning goal with 14 seconds left in the second overtime of a 1-0 road win at Concordia-Moorhead. She also scored goals in back-to-back 2018 wins over Northland and UW-La Crosse.
“Gaba is a fantastic, self-motivated athlete who is disciplined in her training,” McGill explained. “She is fiercely physical and fast on the field, and never brings less than her best. She is a leader by example and an extremely hard worker. Off the field she is a loyal friend and is great at balancing athletics, academics and Air Force ROTC.”
Contributing at a high level in varsity soccer and ROTC isn’t an easy task, but Palazzo has made it work.
“Soccer has helped create a good balance for me in a busy schedule,” she explained. “We have a good time on our team, but we work hard. We have so many top students on our team with high grade-point averages. It can be a lot to juggle, but Sheila has been very gracious, she understands I do my best to balance the two. There are days when it overlaps. My ROTC commanders are understanding, too, and ultimately ROTC pays for my scholarship, so I have to be mindful that’s my first priority.”