The journey of Alexis Mencotti

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Alexis Mencotti

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Alexis Mencotti

Josh Peick

How an athlete responds to adversity defines who they are as a player and as a person. If that holds true, Alexis Mencotti of the Grand Valley State women’s soccer team would be described as someone who thrives in the face of adversity and never lets anything hold her back from getting back on the soccer field.

Although she has only played one full season due to a string of injuries during her four-year tenure with the Lakers, Mencotti has been a staple in the GVSU program.

Mencotti has endured three separate torn-ACL injuries during her playing career, once in high school and twice at GVSU. Each time could have been career-ending, but Mencotti fought back through rehab to return to the field.

Her first injury was a devastating realization of how competitive it is to earn a spot on a college roster. After her injury, a number of schools that were looking to recruit her stopped all contact with her until she proved she could play again.

“I just remember going into my senior year (of high school) and thinking that my dream of playing college soccer, I didn’t think I was going to get it,” Mencotti said. “I thought I was done.”

While many schools shied away from Mencotti, GVSU was the one school that had confidence in her ability and gave her a chance to live out her dream.

After the long rehab to get back on the field to start her college career, Mencotti made a wrong cut in a preseason practice and injured her knee again.

“I heard a pop, and I knew the sensation because I had felt it a couple years prior,” Mencotti said. “I knew instantly what it was, and just hearing the news from the doctor was very difficult.”

Mencotti was sidelined for her freshman year, but that did not stop her from working outside of practice to ensure she would be back for her sophomore year.

“If girls are working as hard as they can on the field, I need to be working just as hard off the field in my recovery,” Mencotti said. “If it was a two-hour practice, I was in the weight room, I was running, I was doing some type of rehab for the two hours.”

Her hard work paid off, because by the time her sophomore season started, Mencotti was physically ready to make an impact on the team.

“Once you get a taste of college soccer, I just remember my freshman year, I got a taste of a national championship, and that’s all I wanted,” Mencotti said. “That was my motivation to come back and play (my sophomore year).”

Midway through her sophomore season, the team was lacking consistency at the center-back position, and Mencotti filled that role and exceeded expectations the rest of the season.

Mencotti started all throughout the postseason on the team’s national championship run and played a vital role in the team’s success.

“I think that one of the things that gets lost in the injury-plagued career of (Mencotti) is that she is extremely talented,” said Jeff Hosler, GVSU head coach. “People continue to talk about the final four (in 2014), and she was just absolutely fantastic. Defending arguably the best forward in the country in the semifinal against Saint Rose, and then Rollins, who was the nation’s No. 1 offense, shutting them out.”

Her national championship run and performance her sophomore year was the highlight of her career, but her stint in the starting lineup was short-lived after she tore her ACL again in a spring season game.

“It was the most pain I have ever felt in my life in that moment,” Mencotti said. “I couldn’t get up, and I couldn’t walk. That was the hardest thing that I had ever been faced with because I was so sick of recovering. I needed a good mental break.”

Her injury not only affected herself, but the entire team and coaching staff around her. To see the hard-work that Mencotti had put into her rehabilitation, only to see her get hurt again, was devastating for the team.

“When she tore her ACL (a third time), I can’t even put into words how heartbreaking it was for everyone,” said Clare Carlson. “A lot of people told her she couldn’t come back, she shouldn’t come back, (but) she did.”

For the third time in four years, Mencotti was faced with another form of adversity, but never gave up on the dream of returning to the soccer field.

“It’s hard to watch year after year it continue to happen, but being a shoulder to cry on and letting her know that I am always there for her (was important),” said Gabbie Guibbord, a lifelong friend of Mencotti.

After a rigorous 15-month rehabilitation, Mencotti returned to the practice field in the best shape of her life, physically and mentally prepared to endure a full season of playing.

“I’m taking this heads on. I’m not a quitter,” Mencotti said. “I said I would play four years here, maybe five years, six years depending on my body, but I’m not quitting.”

Mencotti played in the first two games of the season in California, but she knew internally that something did not feel right with her knee. She returned to the doctor to find out she had a torn meniscus and swelling in her ACL. At this point, continuing to play could mean knee replacement surgeries in the future. It was then she realized that her playing career had come to an end.

“Knowing that I never quit, I never quit on the sport, my body quit,” Mencotti said. “Mentally, I could go round four. There is no (doubt) in my mind that I could do another ACL, another surgery, anything. I’m ready to take on that challenge, but my body quit on me.”

She sat out the rest of the 2016 season, until senior day Sunday, Oct. 16. In an agreement between Hosler and Mencotti, she started the game against Findlay and played until the first stoppage in play.

“It was important for her to have that start because she has put a lot of sweat equity into this program,” Hosler said. “Never has her mindset been anything other than getting back (on the field) for the team. If anyone has earned that opportunity that day, it’s (Mencotti).”

In an emotional moment for Mencotti to hear her name called in the starting lineup one last time, it was also emotional for her teammates, who have been by her side through this roller coaster of a journey.

“It was emotional to see because it’s been since sophomore year, and I know how much she deserved it and how much she really wishes she could have been out there every start,” said Marti Corby. “It was inspiring to see the last time she was on that field.”

Mencotti played in an unfamiliar position, forward. She almost had a breakaway opportunity, but Findlay’s last defender cleared the ball before she got to it.

“I was thinking about making it interesting and maybe I slide tackle, but then I thought maybe not,” Mencotti said, jokingly.

It was the first time she had been on the field in two months, but her teammates felt like they had not missed a beat.

“Seeing her out there, it almost felt normal,” Carlson said. “I was so grateful that I was able to start on the field with her for her last career start and to be there for the entire journey.”