As of Wednesday, March 22, 2017
INDEPENDENCE — Early in the season, coach Julie McDonald spoke with the Central’s girls basketball team about defining roles.
Guard Meagan Mendazona was ready to earn a leading role despite being a freshman.
“I’ve always been a leader on my teams and I’m willing to step up if I am able,” she said.
On some teams, seeing a freshman carve out a key role could be troublesome.
Not so for the Panthers.
“Even though I’m a freshman, my teammates respected me,” she said. “It allowed me to improve and do what I could to help the team.”
Mendazona led or was second in nearly all statistical categories for the Panthers, helping Central to a third-place finish in the Mid-Willamette Conference and a trip to the state playoffs.
Her 12.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game were a result of a rare combination of offensive skills and a willingness to fight for rebounds in the paint. Her leadership made her the Itemizer-Observer’s girls basketball Player of the Year.
In Mendazona’s world, basketball is king.
“I always watched Oregon State’s women’s basketball team,” Mendazona said. “My dad takes me to some of their games. I looked up to those girls and they were inspiration for me to be more like them. They made me want to improve my game to be like theirs.”
There was something about being out on the court that she became addicted to, and she became driven to improve — whether that meant playing for a traveling club team during the summers or working in the gym and watching game film at home with her brother, Peter. Meagan wants to make sure each time she steps onto the court, she can play with anyone.
“Watching Meagan play since she was in preschool, I knew she had some special qualities,” Central coach Julie McDonald said. “She has never been intimidated by playing with older girls or, even boys for that matter. She is a competitor and eager to learn. … She is a head above most girls her age and has a lot more room to grow as a player.”
There was one thing bothering her — she lacked the chances to play the positions she truly loved.
“Before high school, I was always put at the post because I was taller than everyone else,” Mendazona said. “I never really liked it. I’m not necessarily more comfortable outside, but I always liked playing the point or the wing.”
That changed once she arrived at Central, though Mendazona quickly discovered she couldn’t get by purely on her physical skills.
“She couldn’t just rely on her speed and strength because the girls she was playing with were two to three years older than her,” McDonald said. “She developed a nice pull up jumper and learned how to be crafty with the ball down the lane.”
On any given possession, she was a threat to take the outside shot, take it to the hoop or dish it to a teammate.
She also showed she could be a steady hand in late-game situations. Often, with games coming down to the wire, it was Mendazona McDonald called upon to make something happen.
“She wants the ball in late-game situations,” McDonald said earlier this season. “The girls trust her. I trust her. That’s a good trait for a player to have.”
Mendazona should only improve going forward. Mendazona suffered a shoulder injury during volleyball season in the fall and required surgery to repair. She was able to return in time for basketball but with a big caveat.
“My shooting form got kind of screwed up a little bit,” she said.
Returning her form to where it was pre-injury will be a major focus during the offseason — and make her even more of a threat on the offensive end.
“I want my shooting to improve,” Mendazona said. “I want to increase my range and get my form back to where it used to be.”
Mendazona entered high school hoping to contribute to the Panthers as best she could. She left the season being one of the team’s unquestioned leaders, and McDonald expects her to only get better.
“She is fun to watch play any sport,” McDonald said. “She has been gifted with talent, and she continues to push herself to be the best she can be.”