AN APPRECIATION

Andschana Mendes, forward, Rutgers University

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

Andschana Mendes does something to the field hockey fan. Makes them sit on the edge of their seat or stand up when she gets the ball.

Andschana Mendes does something to those wearing opposite-colored jerseys. Makes them look like they've never played the game of field hockey before. Makes them lunge at empty air. Makes them wrong-foot their approach to her, looking awkward as she takes off in the opposite direction.

And if she doesn't get her way in the run of play, there is a cannon shot off corners, one which fans cannot often follow as it smashes into the 18-inch backboard at the bottom of the goal cage.

One of the most complete players to don a Rutgers University jersey, the freshman might be the top freshman in NCAA Division I field hockey this season.

And the thing is, she doesn't even start. The Scarlet Knights' coaching staff has chosen to expose her to games in 10- to 15-minute segments. And you can instantly tell when she is in the game.

Opposing defenders often find themselves in no-woman's land when she gets the ball. They find themselves scrambling or tackling back trying to defend this truly special player.

Or, they back off a bit too far, giving her too much space.

Mendes has played some truly spectacular hockey for the Scarlet Knights this season, turning them from pretender to dark horse in 1998, and probably to legitmate contender for several years to come.

What do we mean by spectacular? How about beating three Maryland defenders to score a key second-half goal in Rutgers' upset win?

How about some of her corner shots, hammering the ball with such speed all you can see is a glimpse of the ball as it hits the backboard?

And how about not knowing exactly what she is going to do when she gets the ball?

This, perhaps, is Mendes' greatest attribute. While other collegians have a signature move -- the backhand of Old Dominion's Marina DiGiacomo, the hard smashes of Maryland's Carla Tagliente and Keli Smith, the chip shot of Princeton's Kirsty Hale -- Mendes doesn't have a personal move.

So much the better to be almost unmarkable in the open field. Certainly, Mendes and her Rutgers teammates have had adversity this season. A concussion made her miss a pair of road games her freshman season, and one game played late in the season on bumpy grass against a lowly regarded opponent made her and her teammates extremely frustrated. However, she and the Knights have overcome all obstacles.

Ever since her high-school days at Glen Gardner Voorhees (N.J.), Andschana Mendes has shown skills, taught by German legend Bertie Vogts, which have been far and away better than most. The final skill, which cannot be taught by any coach, is how to turn all of those attributes into winning.

Somehow, you get the feeling that she will.

 

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