BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - When Union College takes the field Saturday, it will mark the first time since 2003 that the Lady Bulldogs participated in the NAIA Women's Soccer Championship Tournament. Despite the six-year absence, there is one common thread between this year's team and the previous ones: Camila Mendes.
Mendes played on both the Lady Bulldogs' 2002 and 2003 national tournament teams and is now in her second season as an assistant with the team, making her the only one with any knowledge of what it's like on the big stage.
"It was a best experience in the world," said Mendes of getting to play in the national tournament. "We played some of the best teams and players in the world. It's some of the best competition you can get."
Union will play at fifth-seeded William Carey (Miss.) University in the NAIA Women's Soccer National Championship Opening Round Saturday at 5 p.m. Eastern.
In the 2002 Final Four run, Mendes played a key role in the team's success as she scored two goals at the national tournament as Union defeated University of Maine at Farmington 4-0 in the opening round and Park (Mo.) University 4-2 in the quarterfinals.
"I'm excited about getting to go back (to the national tournament)," Mendes said. "There's nothing like it."
The Campinas, Brazil native ranks in the top 10 in program history in goals scored (33), in assists (23) and in points (89). A four-time All-Conference selection, Mendes was named the Appalachian Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2004. She was also recognized as a NAIA All-American honorable mention in 2002, 2003 and 2004. In addition, Mendes was named the Union College Female Athlete of the Year in 2004-05.
After leaving Union, Mendes continued her playing career as a member of the Blackburn Rovers in England in 2005, on Requios FC in Japan in 2006 and on Real Dimension in Trinidad in 2007, helping Real Dimension capture the national championship.
In 2008, Mendes coached Naparima U16 Boys team in Trinidad.
Now as an assistant, Mendes is more than happy to share her experience with the Lady Bulldogs as they prepare for their first trip to the national tournament.
"I'm keep telling them not to be too nervous," she said. "They've been working hard all year. They just need to do what they've been doing all year. It's going to be tough playing the No. 5 team in the nation, but you never know.
"This is an experience of a lifetime," Mendes added.
Though excited about being a part of another national tournament team, Mendes admits that it is tough for her at times to remind on the sidelines.
"It's much harder for me now (as a coach)," she said. "Sometimes I want to get out there on the field and help them out as a player."
Mendes has high hopes for the Lady Bulldogs as they prepare for William Carey.
"I really hope we can go there and succeed. I hope we can go a long way," she said. "This is an experience of a lifetime, and I want to the players to get the most out of it."
If victorious, Union will advance to the NAIA Sweet Sixteen which will be held in Decatur, Ala., Nov. 30-Dec. 5.