Over the last three years, she performed with the San Jose SaberKittens, the Arena Football League's top dance team as voted by the fans in 2005. She was the squad's Rookie of the Year in 2004, a co-captain the next and recently finished this season as one of its captains in what nearly turned out to be a championship year for the SaberCats.
"A lot of that progression had to do with my experience at San Jose State," said Sanchez, one of five former Spectrum dancers associated with the 2006 San Jose SaberCats.
Jennifer Almazan, Diana Chinn and Lauren DeGuzman completed their rookie season as SaberKittens, while Anette Herrera piled her craft as a ‘Kitten in 2005 and assisted the SaberCats as a sideline girl this year.
Their presence relays the obvious: The SJSU program has quietly made its mark as a great training ground for tomorrow's performers and entertainers in the Bay Area sports scene. In 2005, alone, six Spectrum dancers were on professional teams in addition to the SaberKittens, including two with the San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush and one with the Oakland Raiderettes.
Herrera says that's no accident. The Spectrum program really is that good for aspiring dancers and also allows for the development as a mature young woman, she said.
"What's nice about Spectrums is its nurturing environment. It's conducive for that amateur training and for getting used to being in the public eye," said Herrera. "You start to apply everything you learned when you're in the professional realm."
Formed in 1978 to perform a single routine at each home football game during the marching band's show, the Spectrums now have routines for every song performed by the band and even have their own solo program. The team also does the San Jose Holiday Parade, high school exhibitions and various community events.
Chinn called Jollay the "ultimate" source of support and inspiration.
"The personal lessons she taught through her constant encouragement and willingness to put her entire heart into the Spectrums dance team will immeasurably guide me, both as a professional dance team member and throughout life," she said.
"Laura has so much experience and she passed that down to us," added DeGuzman. "And she was good about encouraging us to try out for other teams, to take that next step. Without her guidance, I never would have made the SaberKittens."
Aside from all the technical knowledge the Spectrums provided these young women, it also sowed a deep friendship among them that calmed nerves and downplayed insecurities when it came time to try out alongside more than 100 other hopefuls this past year for the ‘Kittens squad.
"Auditions can be scary and intimidating, said Chinn. "But to go and see a familiar face, have someone to sit and joke with about the pressures of the try outs, I can't even say how great that was."
"We have a special bond," said DeGuzman. "In that first game, I was unsure of myself because everything was so new. But to look across and see people I'd performed with many times before, that was very comforting."
The SaberKittens experience has been memorable for all of these women. For a rookie like Almazan, it's special because it almost didn't happen. Before the season even began, she rolled her ankle during practice and was on the sideline for five weeks.
"The most difficult part was to watch everyone at the first game. I wanted to be, I felt I should have been, out there with my teammates," she said. "I was scared. But I did everything I could to work hard and overcome it."
Hard work. Dedication. The words epitomize these current and former Spartans who are well on their way to achieving success beyond the football field.
Almazan is pursuing a degree in real estate and finance. DeGuzman has a nursing career in her sights, much like Herrera, who graduated in 2004 with a kinesiology degree and is now in the school's graduate nursing program. Chinn, who has degrees in English and criminal justice administration from San Diego State University and transferred to SJSU to finish her course work, is applying to law schools throughout the state this September.
After three years with the team, Sanchez, a 2005 SJSU alumna, said she's looking for new challenges and has likely taken her last turn with the SaberKittens, a time she calls "magical." But wherever she ends up..
"I'm still a Spectrum," she said. "I was that first and will always be one."