Two-Sport Star Maggie Mendelson Enjoyed a Year to Remember
The Utah teen is emerging as junior national team standout in hoops and volleyball.
For most of us, 2021 has been a year unlike any other. Maggie Mendelson undoubtedly would agree.
Mendelson’s tale of being a two-sport junior national team star, however, likely is not relatable to others in her home state of Utah — or anywhere else in the country for that matter.
Mendelson’s impressive year included medal-winning performances for the U.S. in both basketball and volleyball in a span of two months.
First, the 16-year-old helped USA Basketball win gold in August at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship in Léon, Mexico. Mendelson averaged 10.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in helping the U.S. win all six of its games at the event.
“It was so awesome,” said Mendelson, a 6-foot-5 center. “It was my first experience with Team USA. To play with girls from across the country who have always been the best on their teams and to come together, I feel like we clicked extremely well. … Just to bring home that gold medal was so cool. We were all celebrating in the locker room. It was such a cool experience to be a part of.”
Then in September, Mendelson shined during the United States’ march to the bronze medal at the FIVB Volleyball U18 World Championship in Durango, Mexico. In the third-place match against Serbia, she scored 14 points on nine kills, three blocks and two aces.
“That was so cool,” she said. “In volleyball, we had to bring our best every day because we had to play against tough competition every day. Playing with the girls was awesome. On both teams, we had the same mindset — we want to be the best.”
Mendelson, who is from North Ogden, Utah, has been playing basketball since age 10 and volleyball since she was 12, although she notes that volleyball actually is the sport that comes more naturally to her.
“Basketball is a lot harder for me,” she said. “Basketball is definitely more of a grind. With volleyball, it took a little bit of time to grow into my body, but it was definitely easier to pick up.”
And if you think mastering two sports is impressive, just consider how many sports Mendelson has discarded along the way.
“I’ve played a lot of sports,” she said. “I played on a travel softball team, I swam, I did track and field, and I played tennis.”
But ultimately it was basketball and volleyball that emerged from the pack for Mendelson. And in addition to being uniquely talented at those two sports, she also has a specific passion for each.
“With basketball, I like how you can get up against people and be physical. You don’t get that in volleyball,” she said. “I like how you can beat out somebody, you can see where you stack up. I like being physical, getting rebounds, and just trying my hardest.”
And with volleyball?
“I like being able to play such a team sport,” she continued. “Basketball is a team sport, too, but if one person on the volleyball court isn’t playing good, you’re not going to get the ball as much. I feel smarter playing volleyball, too, because you have to be more of a perfectionist.”
And so, Mendelson fully has committed to playing two sports at essentially the highest level a 16-year-old can reach. Many days she has a two-hour basketball practice and a two-hour volleyball practice — on top of school and homework, of course.
Mendelson acknowledges that while she loves both sports, there are days when she doesn’t want to play basketball, or days she doesn’t want to play volleyball.
“But then,” she explained, “I realize I’m doing it for a reason.”
And that reason is…
“You have to try your hardest every day, because there’s another girl that will take your spot if you don’t,” she continued. “I want to play at the highest level I possibly can. I want to play in the Olympics someday. And I know playing both is giving me an extra advantage, because I think each sports helps me in the other one.”
To clarify, Mendelson primarily hopes to play volleyball in the Olympic Games. But she’d love to play both sports in college. (Her top four schools, by the way, are Nebraska, Washington, Texas and Minnesota.) And of course, if the timing works out, she’d love to play both sports for the United States in 2022. For basketball, that would be the FIBA U17 World Cup. For volleyball, possible events are the 2022 U18 NORCECA Championship and the 2022 U18 Pan Am Cup.
“That would be an awesome experience,” she said.
And after the year that she’s had, can you blame Mendelson for champing at the bit to get back out there to compete for her country?
“It was such an honor to put on the USA jersey and to play for my teammates on that level and play for all the little girls who want to be in my position,” Mendelson said. “It was such a cool opportunity that very few people have and to be able to do it twice was such an honor. There’s no cooler feeling than getting to put USA across your chest.”
Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.