By ANDREW YOURELL
The Mendonca family decided to split up twins Ashley and Chelcie for college recruiting trips—Ashley went to Boston College first, and Chelcie came to Durham to visit UNH.
Both the Eagles and Wildcats now feature a Mendonca on their rosters; the irony is that Chelcie chose BC, while Ashley settled on UNH.
“My sister was supposed to come here…she was looking here, and I was looking at Boston College, where she goes now,” Ashley said. “In the end it kind of just switched up and I went here and she went there.”
Mendonca said that the team culture, coaching staff, players and campus were what ultimately swayed her to come to Durham.
“We wanted both of them, obviously,” UNH head coach Robin Balducci said. “They’re both very good, outstanding players.”
Part of the reason the twins are so good is their pedigree. Their father, Cassius, was a member of the men’s national team, as was her mother, Abigail, on the women’s team. Cassius is also a Canadian National Team coach and has coached at the University of Toronto since 2009. Both sisters have been named to the Canadian National Team and bring international experience to their respective teams.
“[International playing experience] is worth its weight in gold,” Balducci said. The high level of competition and Mendonca’s intelligence actually forced Balducci to make the sophomore a more important part of the team’s on-field strategy.
Mendonca played last season in the backfield. But Mendonca’s versatility led Balducci to change Mendonca’s role on the team to that of a midfielder. According to Balducci, the entire Wildcats offense runs through Mendonca and fellow midfielder Gianna Bensaia.
“She’s definitely a distributor,” Bensaia said. “She’s definitely someone…you trust her with the ball. She’ll get it to you as best as she can.”
Balducci discussed Mendonca’s role as that of the team’s quarterback, responsible for dishing the ball out to allow the team’s forwards to score. On offensive penalty corners, Mendonca plays a key role. She and Bensaia are one of the batteries on the Wildcats’ unit, tasked with securing the inbound pass and firing off a shot on goal.
But Mendonca’s background on defense means she’s also a vital part of the defensive penalty corner unit. When other teams line up to shoot, Mendonca and the defense charge the shooter, using their bodies to block the open shots.
Balducci described Mendonca’s roles on both penalty corner units as “critical.”
As much as the international experience Mendonca has helps her—and the Wildcats, as a result—it also caused her to miss much of the preseason this fall. Because of that, Balducci said, it took some time for Mendonca to adjust to her new role and to get chemistry with her teammates.
According to Bensaia, Mendonca’s absence was felt during the fall camp.
“We definitely noticed her not being there,” Bensaia said. “Even as a freshman, she was a person on the field that we relied on. It was weird not having her, but definitely we noticed play did go up a notch when she did come back.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Wildcats’ offense took time to gel at the beginning of the season. UNH struggled to take shots early in the year, but in the second half of the season, the ‘Cats have stepped up.
Heading into the America East playoffs, Balducci feels that her team is peaking at the right time, and Mendonca is a big reason why.
“She’s one of my most skillful players,” Balducci said, praising Mendonca’s vision on the field and her skills with the ball on her stick.
Mendonca and the Wildcats are playing in Albany on Friday against the West Division’s No. 2 seed, the University of the Pacific Tigers in the America East quarterfinals. If the Wildcats win, they move on to the semifinals, against the winner of the University at Albany versus UC Davis game.
By ANDREW YOURELL