Profile: FGR’s Rileigh Garbarz has a few more dribbles to complete before kicking things over to soccer

Rileigh Garbarz had a difficult decision to make – after making an already tough choice earlier in her life.

The senior has been a standout soccer and basketball player during her four years at Father Gabriel Richard High School but she realized that kicking and dribbling at the next level just wasn’t going to happen. So, she had to make a choice.

“When I was younger, I thought it would be a hard decision choosing between the two, but as I got older it became more and more clear that I had more of a passion for soccer,” she says. “Basketball was always a nice break from soccer.”

It also was a nice way to keep the fire burning in the off-season.

“I’m a very competitive person and love to compete whenever I can,” she says. “Basketball allowed me to do that. I’ve always felt that soccer came more natural to me.”

And that brings us to decision No. 2. Now that Garbarz decided to give basketball the boot, it was time to figure out where she would be kicking and studying and learning and growing over the next four years. Once Saginaw Valley entered the pitch, that decision became much clearer.

“Deciding where I wanted to go to college was a difficult decision that took me some time,” she admits. “I visited Saginaw Valley’s campus early on during my junior year and was overall impressed with the campus, especially the athletic facilities. I really like the style of soccer that SVSU plays and the coaching staff.”

Not only will she be bringing her athletic skills to SVSU, but also her tenacity in the classroom. Rileigh, the daughter of Mazie and Doug Garbarz, has a 4.06 GPA.

“What really solidified my decision to go to SVSU was their Pre-Health Professions program,” she says. “I plan on following the pre-med track and majoring in biology.”

Garbarz, 18, is currently “majoring” in basketball and is one of the leaders of this year’s talented FGR team. The Fighting Irish are off to a fantastic 6-1 start under coach Tim Cain and the 5-9 forward is a big reason why. She had a huge night in FGR’s win Monday over Plymouth Christian, finishing with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

And that’s nothing new for Garbarz, who led the team last year with 14 double-doubles while averaging 12 points and nine rebounds per game. She also had a team-high 90 steals and was named All-Catholic for the second straight year.

Expectations are high on Whitehall Drive.

“We have a strong team this year and I’m really excited to see what we accomplish,” says Garbarz. “There’s quite a few returning varsity players which has helped us early on this season. Our goal for this season is to make a run in the state tournament.”

She says the Irish’s strengths include defense and team chemistry. “We have a really awesome group of girls that get along really well,” she says.

One of the players amongst that awesome group is someone close to Rileigh, her sister Lainey. They’ve grown up playing sports together and are able to push each other harder than most teammates do.

“I love being able to share these experiences together,” Rileigh says. “Our teammates can attest to the fact that it isn’t always smooth sailing and we do argue from time to time, but it’s mainly due to the fact that we have such high standards for ourselves and each other. It’s something that I think we’ll look back on and realize that we didn’t appreciate enough.”

Lainey, a junior who was All-Catholic last year, also plans on playing soccer in college.

When basketball is over, the Garbarz sisters will return to the pitch.

Rileigh played for FGR as a freshman (she was All-League) but not as a sophomore, playing instead for her club team Legends FC. She was going to play for the Irish last year before COVID shut down the season. And she is hoping to represent her school this spring as a senior.

While Rileigh is looking forward to her next chapter at Saginaw, she admits she is going to miss FGR.

“I have loved my experience at FGR,” she says. “I’ve met a lot of amazing people and have had a lot of really wonderful opportunities because of it. I really appreciate the ability to not only learn more about my faith, but to be able to share it and have discussions about it on a daily basis.”