Marisa Mendonca experienced big change making the jump from the Pinnacles Football Club to the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack.
“The competitiveness and commitment and speed of the game was all up a few levels compared to what I was used to back at home,” said Mendonca, whose season ended when she sustained a separated shoulder while being sandwiched in the box on Oct. 25 in a 2-0 win over the UNBC Timberwolves.
Coach Tom McManus said all rookies time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
“I usually tell players if you think your fit, get 10 times fitter and then you will be almost ready to play,” he said.
She played in 13 of 14 games and started in the regular season finale. It took Mendonca nearly half the season to feel comfortable. That came through hard work and being pushed by teammates who put a game mentality into every drill.
“That really helped me. To be able to make the decisions faster and know how quick I had to take my touch,” she said, adding that her development with Pinnacles FC helped with her transition to the university level.
The shoulder injury forced Mendonca out of the WolfPack’s lone playoff game, a 6-1 loss in the CIS quarter-final against the UBC Thunderbirds on Oct. 30. Mendonca described missing that as “pretty heart breaking.”
“We all worked hard as a team together, supporting each other,” she said. “Whether you are on the field or off the field, to have the final game … just because of a tackle in the box and you can’t have done anything about it and then to have that taken away was pretty tough.”
What she enjoyed most of her first season was the new atmosphere and speed of play.
“There is a lot more intensity that came with it,” she said. “It was good to help me develop as a player.”
While the WolfPack’s season has only been over for two weeks, McManus is already excited for next season. After using Mendonca as a striker with Jaydene Radu and Danielle Fauteux, a large opportunity opens up for Mendonca with three strikers graduating.
“It’s going to be wide open for her to take it by the scruff of the neck,” he said.
Mendonca, called Rees, by her teammtes, managed three shots on goal during the season and collected an assist.
“It felt really good. When I was put on the field, I accomplished what I was supposed to do out there,” she said. “I helped the team get that extra goal.”
One of the things that McManus loves about Mendonca is how she gets the ball. She accepts it with her back to the goal, then spins and fires it. That is a skill he will continue to push with her. He also said she is very good to coach and described her as a “ happy go-lucky person.”
“Now she knows what I expect,” he said.
The highlight of Mendonca’s season was meeting new teammates and being able to play at the university level. She loved the team bonding and earned her nickname on the first day.
“It was really cool to be accepted like that right away,” said Mendonca, who responds naturally to Rees. “It was from the first game before the season even started. They were coming up with names. They are open to accepting new people. Make them feel welcome.”