Sports Person of the Week
Mendonca Makes Her Mark While Continuing Family Tradition
Senior captain Kayla Mendonca claimed top honors in the 100 backstroke for the fourth-straight campaign while representing the Tigers the SCC Championship. (Photo courtesy of Kayla Mendonca )
When Kayla Mendonca completes her last race with the Hand girls’ swimming and diving team, she will be closing out her family’s storied history of competing for the Tigers. Kayla is the last of four Mendonca’s to swim at Hand, following in the footsteps of her two older brothers, Davide and Michael, and her mother Kathleen. This fall, Kayla is having an outstanding senior season while serving as a captain for Head Coach Jen Lyman’s squad.
“There’s a great family history here. I’m very lucky to have been a part of watching this for 20 years now,” says Lyman. “I’ve been able to put Kayla in almost every event. Not only does she have the versatility, she has the passion, drive, and commitment, and she simply has fun when she swims.”
Kayla helped Hand notch a dual-meet record of 8-3 and a fourth-place finish at the SCC Championship this season. At the SCC meet, Kayla claimed first place in the 100 backstroke for the fourth year in a row. Hand’s next meet is the Class M State Championship, where the Tigers finished in first place last year. Mendonca won the 100 backstroke and also swam on Hand’s triumphant 400 freestyle relay to help Hand take home the gold.
“When we won the states last year, it was the first in school history for swimming. To be able to share that with my team was really great,” Kayla says. “Our motto has always been ‘TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More.’”
Kayla helped Hand make more history during the 2019 season. On Oct. 4, the Tigers earned a 96-89 victory against Lauralton Hall, marking program’s first win versus the Crusaders.
“We’d never beaten them before,” says Kayla. “They’ve had a long tradition of success under one coach. It was a great day for our team.”
Kayla grew up around the water. She started swimming at age six and was competing for the Valley Shore YMCA Marlins shortly thereafter. Kayla not only comes from a family of swimmers, her parents also officiate competitions.
“Both of my parents are USA Swimming officials,” says Kayla. “You can see them around the deck all the time in their white official’s shirts.”
Kayla excels in the 100 backstroke, an event in which she’s taken first place at the SCC Championship the past four years. Kayla set the meet record in the event by swimming a time of 56.98 seconds as a sophomore.
Kayla is also a proficient swimmer in the 100 butterfly. She placed second in the event at last week’s SCC meet.
Kayla likes swimming in both of these events, as well as her relays. She also enjoys leading Hand alongside fellow senior captain Erin Reilly.
“I love the responsibility it involves, and sharing it with Erin is wonderful,” Kayla says. “We’ve both been able to watch the growth in our sophomore and junior class team members, to see all they’ve done to make us such a good team.”
Kayla competes on a year-around basis a member of SOCO Aquatics Club based out of New Haven. She’s already committed to swim at the Division I level when she attends UConn next year. While the collegiate season is much longer, Coach Lyman knows that Kayla has put in the necessary preparation to make a splash with the Huskies.
“They swim from September through March, but I know that won’t be difficult for Kayla, because she’s basically on that kind of schedule right now,” Lyman says.
Kayla is looking forward to the opportunity of swimming in college. The fact that she gets to do so in her home state makes it that much better.
“I’ll be close to home, and my family members will be able to watch me compete in meets,” says Kayla. “It will be like a continuation of this year.”