Grand Valley State is synonymous with winning in DII women's soccer. The Lakers won the national championship every year from 2013 to 2015 before finally succumbing to Western Washington in last year's finals.
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It was a new era of GVSU soccer this year, however. Big names like Marty Corbi, Jayma Martin and Kendra Stauffer were lost to graduation. Perhaps it was the residual effect of the championship loss, or maybe it was the dawn of a new core for the Lakers team -- Grand Valley State opened 2017 in unfamiliar territory. The Lakers dropped their first two games of the season, the first time they lost conestcutive matches since 2002.
“It was a huge adjustment," senior forward Gabriella Mencotti said. "Losing such big players who had a lot of success for our team was a big loss for us. Plus we came in with 14 new girls I think, so it was a huge adjustment getting them on the same page and accustomed to what we do and the team that we are. It was a huge transition.”
You could feel that all was not lost in Allendale, Michigan. Afterall, Mencotti was the reigning DII Player of the Year, leading every division of women's soccer with 29 goals in 2016. She alone could turn the tides of the Lakers season.
“My expectations haven’t changed at all," Mencotti said. "I have the same end goal that I have had for the last three years. Every year you lose great players, but every year you bring in a new, great class.”
As the Lakers got off to a slow start, Mencotti did as well, scoring three goals in her first five games. But then it all clicked, for both her and the team. She has now scored in nine of her last eleven games, including a recent stretch of three hat tricks in a row.
“At that point, yea, I just want the ball,” Mencotti said laughing. “Our team has been doing really well listening to the pointers from the coaching staff. We’re spreading out teams wide and making sure we are finding gaps in the defense. Because of that, I think our outside forwards and our center-mids have been so dynamic and dangerous towards goal, and that's opened up space for me to finish up great chances and balls that they’ve played in.”
That's who Mencotti is. She doesn't add extra pressure to herself. All she does is her job, and she does it better than anyone else in DII women's soccer.
“I think I just hold myself to that standard," Mencotti said. "I’m a center forward. The center forward should be leading goal scorer on the team. Me doing my job, and me benefiting the team is having me scoring in the games. That’s just me doing my part for the team.”
This past Sunday was Senior Day. The Lakers, who haven't lost since those opening back-to-back defeats, won 3-0. It was their 12th shutout in the last 13 games, a span during which they have outscored their opponents an unthinkable 65-2. Mencotti, on cue, scored a goal in the latest shutout, making her Senior Day one to remember.
“There’s so many different things I’m going to remember," Mencotti said. "Obviously the national championships we’ve won. But the most important thing is the people that I’ve met and the friendships I developed while I was here. They’re literally family to me.
“It was crazy. It doesn’t hit you until then. Being on the other side of it, I remember my freshman year watching the seniors do it and thinking it was so far away. But it comes so quickly. It’s sad, but it’s cool. It’s bittersweet.”
Mencotti has three regular season games left in her illustrious career. She is the current active leader across all three divisions with 76 goals. Adding to that total is one of the few guarantees in life. But before she goes, let's step off the pitch and find out what makes Mencotti the scorer that she is.
Favorite sports movie: I love She’s the Man.
Favorite sports team: I really like watching the NWSL [National Women’s Soccer League], I got really big into it this year. I don’t know that I’d say I have a specific team in it, I just like the league overall.
Athlete who has served as a role model: Professionally for me it’s Carli Lloyd. Once I really started to watch soccer on TV, that’s when her career really started to take off. It was cool to see her develop into the player that she is.
Superstitions: Just things I have to do for the game. It’s more of a mindset I think, going through the same things that I have to tell myself. Nothing crazy though.
Pregame meal/snack: I’m big into that. The night before a game I always have spaghetti with meat sauce and the day of the game I always split a banana with my teammate Tara Lierman.
Favorite cartoon growing up: SpongeBob. I loved that show.
Who would play you in a movie about the soccer team: I love [Rebel Wilson] from Pitch Perfect, but I don’t know that she would be good in a movie about me.
Favorite part about being a Laker: Everything about being a Laker is about being part of the family. The tradition this school brings to everything, it’s just incredible to be a part of it.