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Sports Person of the Week
Mendez Makes an Difference in the Midfield
Sophomore Gianna Mendez has turned in two productive seasons as a midfielder for the East Haven girls’ soccer team. Gianna and the Easties are a club on the climb in Connecticut’s soccer ranks. (Photo courtesy of Gianna Mendez)
Gianna Mendez didn’t wait long to make her presence known as a member of the East Haven girls’ soccer squad. In her first two seasons with the Yellowjackets, Gianna proved a big-time difference maker at the midfield position for a team that’s on the rise.
Gianna, a sophomore, started playing soccer at age three after her father Hugo encouraged her to try the sport by participating in East Haven’s Little Kicks program. Gianna’s dad would often bring her and her brother Logan to practice. With her father having been a soccer player himself, Gianna wanted to be just like him when she took the field.
“My dad was a big soccer player. He put me into soccer and, as I got older, I made the decision to keep playing. I just loved soccer and everything about it. I just wanted to be like my dad,” Gianna says. “He used to take me and my brother to practice when we were little, and he taught me a lot about the game. I heard his stories from when he played and wanted to bring them into my own game.”
Gianna played in the East Haven youth program for a few years, after which she started competing at the Premier level with the CT Rush in 6th grade. By this time, Gianna’s passion for soccer had really started to flourish. She had been playing with many of the same teammates for several years and made some strong connections with them.
When she started high school, Gianna joined the Yellowjackets and was playing alongside those teammates from her youth soccer days. Gianna earned a starting role in East Haven’s midfield as a freshman.
“It was really exciting. I went into that year really excited to play soccer. I was able to move up and play with the girls I had already been playing soccer with,” says Gianna. “That summer, I was running a lot with my dad. He took me to run and practice all summer. Working towards starting varsity and getting there, I was really proud of myself.”
Gianna put forth a standout performance in the last regular season game of her freshman campaign. Gianna scored three goals in East Haven’s 4-1 win versus Hamden to record the first hat trick of her career.
“That was a really exciting moment for me. I’ve scored goals before, but that was my first hat trick in a high school varsity game. It was a really amazing feeling,” Gianna says. “I was really excited after the game. I called my dad right away, and it was just a really exciting moment. I will remember that forever.”
When Gianna came to the Easties, she was replacing former captain Jenna Pane in midfield. Head Coach Jake Hackett says that Gianna stepped up and filled that role admirably as a freshman. Now with several key seniors set to graduate, Coach Hackett knows that Gianna is a player who the Yellowjackets will be looking to build around the next two seasons.
“Gianna has been a starter for us ever since she walked into the program. She came in with a big role to fill. She immediately stepped up as a freshman,” says Hackett. “Gianna is the attacking aspect of our midfield. She had some breakout games as a freshman. She always played well and always did what was needed. Her game against Hamden was a breakthrough moment. Her creativity and aggressiveness with the ball is really special. She does things you can’t necessarily teach.”
Gianna returned to her starting midfield position as a sophomore and continued to produce this past fall. When East Haven faced Wilbur Cross in the first round of the SCC Division B Tournament, Gianna had a goal with two assists to help the team claim a 4-1 victory.
Gianna says that she has excellent chemistry with her Easties’ teammates. Much of that chemistry stems from the fact that many people on the team have been playing soccer together for quite some time.
“Playing with them forever is amazing. They’re some of my best friends. Playing with them on the field is amazing,” Gianna says. “We talk to each other on and off the field, because we know each other so well. We just have a good connection.”
As she moves through the program, Gianna wants to become just as good of a leader as Aimee DiVerniero, Angelina Munoz, and Isabella Pilato were when they led the Yellowjackets as their senior captains this season. In terms of her performance on the pitch, Gianna wants to continue playing to her strength of seeing plays before they unfold and thinking critically about every move she makes.
From the moment that she started playing soccer, Gianna has been bolstered by tremendous support from her parents and coaches. After putting in hours upon hours of hard work to get where she is now, Gianna plans to keep working hard to help East Haven continue its climb up the SCC and state ranks.
“It’s a great feeling. I really wouldn’t have been able to do it without my coaches and my parents. They’ve been taking me to games and have always supported me. My coaches are amazing,” says Gianna. “I’ve worked really hard to get where I am, from being three and just learning how to kick the ball to now being starting varsity in high school. It’s really amazing to me.”