Scrappy Mendiola Sisters Add Toughness
March 23, 2001
SPOKANE, Wash. - Gioconda Mendiola points to her puffy, bloodied lower lip. Her sister did it.
Giuliana Mendiola points to the half-inch cut on her left arm. Her sister did it.
If nothing else, the freshman sisters lead Washington in bruises. They are almost always the first to hit the floor for a loose ball, and have become known as two of the toughest players for the Huskies (21-9), who face Oklahoma (28-5) in the West Regional semifinals Saturday night in the Spokane Arena.
"Giuliana has bruises all over the place all the time," senior Megan Franza said. "And Gio gives everybody bruises."
The Mendiolas spend almost every moment together. Many mistake them for twins, though Gioconda, at 20, is a year older.
"We wish we were (twins)," Gioconda said.
They sometimes dress alike, and even pull their hair back the same way. They shoot their free throws together during practice. They share a dorm room - Giuliana's the messy one, her sister says - and almost always eat together.
"If somebody sees one of us, the other is always around," Gioconda said.
"We came to college to experience everything together," Giuliana said. "The NCAA tournament is a dream come true for us. Experiencing it together is even better."
Giuliana has started 28 games and is averaging 11 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range. The 5-foot-11 guard was selected to the Pac-10 all-freshman team and also earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
Gioconda, a 5-9 guard, is averaging 1.7 points in eight minutes per game. She has appeared in 23 games.
"They're fearless, there's no doubt about it," Washington coach June Daugherty said. "They are freshmen who play like no freshmen I've ever seen. They come out and compete."
Before they entered El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., the Mendiolas had a personal competition. They played 1-on-1 to determine who got to wear jersey No. 13, their mother Alicia's number when she played for the national champion Peruvian team. Giuliana won, but she remembers that the score was close. Gioconda had to settle for No. 31 - 13 backward.
Giuliana is one of three players from California to score more than 3,000 points in high school. Her career average was 26.7. Gioconda scored 1,327 points in her prep career.
"Their desire to win and hatred for losing is something the team needed so much," Franza said. "They want to be in the gym 24 hours a day."
The Mendiolas are two of nine children. Giuliana is the youngest, and has a twin brother. Their family, which owns Donatelli's Italian restaurant in Costa Mesa, Calif., has always been close. One brother, Fabrizio, moved to Seattle to be closer to his sisters. Eight family members will be in Spokane for Saturday's game.
Three of the sisters' aunts also played for Peru's national team. Their father played professional soccer.
"It's an incredible story," Daugherty said. "It's the most close-knit family I've ever been around. They played on the beach on the playgrounds. You can't call their house on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. They're not there. Once they win the court, they don't give it up."
By JANIE McCAULEY