On Alie Mendel's Day, Hoosac Valley Girls Get Convincing Win
CHESHIRE, Mass. — A three-sport star and a cancer survivor before she started her senior year in high school, Hoosac Valley's Alie Mendel is a different kind of kid.
Saturday was a different kind of day in her storied basketball career.
Playing in the Hurricanes' Coaches vs. Cancer Showcase in late January is nothing new. But everything changed for Mendel in June when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer — including her perspective on the annual fund-raiser.
"The past few years, I thought it was just a great cause to raise money for people who are sick and all that," Mendel said after helping Hoosac Valley to a 68-44 win over Medfield. "Now, it's just … eye-opening for a lot of people."
Fans of Berkshire County basketball this week heard a lot about Mendel's battle with cancer, Prior to Saturday's game, the last of six in the day-long showcase, Hurricanes' coach Ron Wojcik reminded the crowd one more time about what his senior captain overcame, beating the odds to get back on the soccer field this fall and play championship-caliber basketball this winter.
"This year's event has been dedicated to our senior captain, Alie Mendel, who, with her family, fought a courageous fight against cancer over the summer," Wojcik said at center court. "She had surgery in late July and has been playing soccer and basketball since and continues to play at a high level.
"We're proud of her. She's an inspiration, certainly, for anyone battling cancer."
While so many look up to Mendel, she seemed humbled by the community's support.
"It was an amazing feeling seeing all the support and everyone showing up for our game — and all day, not just for me but for everyone who is battling cancer," she said. "It's a great cause."
The Coaches vs. Cancer experience may never be the same for her. But one thing was very familiar at the end of the evening: the Hurricanes on the plus side of the scoreboard.
This win, though, was not as lopsided as the final score indicates — certainly not the first half, anyway.
Medfield used a 10-2 run late in the second quarter to grab a 30-29 lead when Camilla Silk (13 points) scored in the post.
Lexi Mercier tied it at the foul line with about a minute left in the half, but the Hurricanes did not regain the lead until freshman Kaylee Winn hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send her team to the locker room up, 33-30.
It didn't stay that close for very long after the teams returned to the court.
Hoosac Valley (10-1) went on a 23-3 run to build a 23-point lead and never looked back as the Hurricanes qualified for the Western Massachusetts tournament with their sixth straight win.
Lexi Mercier scored a game-high 27 points. Riley Robinson scored 15, and Mendel, who got into some early foul trouble, finished with nine.
Mercier was key to Hoosac Valley's third-quarter surge. She knocked down three of her six 3-pointers in the period.
Fittingly, the key to her success behind the arc was aptly named Hoosac Valley assistant Steph Curry.
"Coach Steph — it's great having assistants who pick up on stuff — [Mercier] just wasn't setting her feet early," Wojcik said. "Then the one she knocked down right before half-time, she got her feet set. We called her over, got her feet set, knocked it down.
"Then in the second half, she looked like she had really good form. Her feet were under her, and then we ran little sets for her, too. Once she starts shooting the ball like that, run a couple of screens and see if we can get her the ball."
Mercier hit back-to-back 3s from well beyond the arc to make it 46-33 and then hit a third in a row on a pass from Shaleigh Levesque. Two possessions later, Mercier stole an inbound pass under Medfield's basket and put the ball right in for a 2, giving her 11 straight points in the middle of the decisive run.
Robinson had eight points in the third quarter and finished with three assists and three steals to give the Hurricanes an all-around solid effort.
"Riley just does everything," Wojcik said. "You won't see her, necessarily, with 20 points or whatever. But if you look at the steals, you look at the assists — she runs us. She's our backbone. She's our engine. She controls everything.
"And all the little things she does — and then I'm asking her to play a girl who's 12 inches taller than her. And she goes and does that, too. I can't say enough about the girl. She really makes us go."
Hoosac Valley is off until Thursday when it goes to Wahconah.