Mendiola Sisters Help Guide Huskies Back to the NCAAs
March 12, 2001
By Dick Rockne
Sometimes, what you see isn't always what you get.
June Daugherty, coach of the University of Washington women's basketball team, figured she had improved her squad's scoring potential by successfully recruiting the Mendiola sisters out of Southern California.
After all, Giuliana Mendiola became Orange County's all-time girls' basketball scoring leader (3,069 points) during four seasons at El Toro High School in Lake Forest. Overshadowed was Gioconda, a year older than Giuliana, but a solid player who averaged 17.7 points and 7.7 assists as an El Toro senior.
What Daugherty didn't expect when the Mendiolas began their collegiate careers at Washington were intangibles that, more than scoring, have contributed to the Huskies (19-9) earning a one-third share of the Pac-10 Conference championship and being the league's highest seeded team in the NCAA Tournament. As the No. 6 seed in the West Region, they will play Old Dominion in a first-round game Friday at Gainesville, Fla.
Several factors have contributed to the Huskies' surprising success _ they were 8-22 last season. But maybe none have been more important than the winning attitudes the Mendiolas brought with them to Seattle.
``They brought toughness to our team,'' Daugherty said. ``They're good kids and a lot of fun, but when it's time to go practice or play you better bring your best game because that's what their expectation is.
``Both these kids have made us a tougher team.''
Senior forward Melissa Erickson recognized those traits before the season began.
``Giuliana and Gio just have an attitude of never say die,'' Erickson said. ``They're just not going to lose. And if they lose they're going to be mad about it.''
Giuliana's competitiveness is the most important factor in her being one of the best rebounders in the Pac-10 despite being only 5 feet 10.
``She has great instincts and the biggest heart on this team,'' said Shimmy Gray, assistant coach who is in charge of rebounding. ``She wants the ball. A lot of her rebounds come from her just taking the ball away from somebody who already has gotten the rebound.
``You can't work on that. Or teach that. Or coach that. That's just her heart.''
Giuliana is second on the team _ and ninth in the Pac-10 _ in rebounding average of 6.3 per game. In addition, she is averaging 10.8 points (No. 3 on the team), and, as the starting point guard, has the third best assist/turnover ratio in the league.
Gioconda, who missed several games due to a thumb injury, is a reserve who is averaging 6.8 minutes of playing time and 1.7 points. She led the Huskies in scoring with 10 points in a 73-54 victory over UCLA in January. In that game, the sisters scored seven straight Husky points _ an 18-footer and a three-pointer by Gioconda and a 17-footer by Giuliana.
Gioconda, 19, and Giuliana, 18, are the youngest of nine children raised by Edgardo and Alicia Mendiola in what was a highly competitive home atmosphere centered around a backyard basketball court featuring dirt, trees and 13-year-old hoop.
``My mom got us the basketball hoop when I was 5 years old for Christmas and we just started playing,'' Giuliana said. ``We just began loving the sport. We had fun playing against each other, day after day, forever, until my mom would say it's time to eat.''
The trees became allies.
``We know those trees very well,'' Giuliana said. ``We never lost on our court because we'd run people into the trees. I'd do that against my brothers.''
It was in that backyard where Giuliana developed the instincts responsible for her rebounding ability.
``I just want our team to win so much that I'm just willing to go out there and fall on the ball for a rebound,'' she said. ``I don't care about stats. I just want to do all I can to help our team win.''
That the team is Washington could be construed as something of a surprise for the sisters, who vowed long ago that they would begin college together even though it meant that Gioconda would spend a year as a lady in waiting for Giuliana to graduate.
``We were planning on staying close to home because we have such a close family,'' Giuliana said.
But that plan began to change after they watched Washington play at USC, during Giuliana's junior year at El Toro.
``We were looking at USC at the time, but we just liked the style of basketball Washington played,'' Giuliana said. ``It was their teamwork and how much they hustled after loose balls. It was little things like that that made us think we'd fit better in that type of program.''
That Washington was willing to commit to taking both players even though it meant waiting a year for Gioconda was another plus for the Huskies.
``The did their homework,'' Daugherty said. ``They went to a lot of college games. They obviously were interested in the Pac-10 and playing together. We were just fortunate that when we came down to USC to play they saw the things they liked.''
Nothing has changed.
``I didn't know what to expect coming in here and was hoping to just have fun and help the team win,'' Giuliana said. ``So far the team has been good..
``And I just like being with the group of girls our team has. We get along so well, whether on or off the court. And I think that's a big reason why our team is successful. A lot of teams are too selfish or individualistic. With this team we're all crazy about winning so that's where our focus has been.''
Dick Rockne retired in 2001 after 37 years as a sportswriter for the Seattle Times. He is a contributing writer for gohuskies.com