Kylie Mendez had a very happy birthday Tuesday.
The Nipomo High School senior celebrated her 18th birthday in style.
She had a huge cake.
She was surrounded by family, friends, teammates, coaches and reporters at lunchtime in the Nipomo High gym as she signed her national Letter of Intent to study at and play basketball for San Diego Christian College.
“It’s official,” said her father Dave Mendez as Kylie signed on the dotted line.
Kylie Mendez said that after visiting SDCC twice, getting to know the coaches and practicing with her future teammates, San Diego Christian is the perfect fit.
SDCC is an NAIA school in the Golden State Athletic Conference, an eight-team conference that includes Westmont University, Biola University, Menlo College and Arizona Christian.
“The school has excellent academics. They have a program that meets my goals,” said Kylie Mendez.
Those goals including getting a degree in Liberal Studies, concentrating on special education.
“I see myself as a special education teacher, hopefully right back here at Nipomo High School,” said Mendez. “I’ve been working with our special education students here at Nipomo and have been involved in coaching our Special Olympians here for the last three years.”
Mendez will also get involved with SDCC’s Sports Management program with an eye toward becoming a high school basketball coach – maybe even at Nipomo.
Mendez is thinking she could replace the team’s current head coach – that would be her father Dave.
“Her mother (Jennifer) and I are really proud of her. Kylie has worked so hard for this from day one,” said Dave Mendez. “I loved coaching her at Nipomo. Basically, I had the best seat in the house.”
Kylie was the team’s point guard, a four-year varsity starter.
“She was the engine that made the machine run,” said her coach/dad. “She got everyone involved. She made everyone better.”
How much better?
The Titans made the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the last three years – with Kylie leading her team into the second round her sophomore year, the first round her junior year and the Southern Sections quarterfinals this year – the first time Nipomo has gone that far in the CIF playoffs.
“We got our first-ever CIF home win this year when we beat San Dimas in our first game (of the Division 4AA tournament),” said Dave Mendez. “Then we beat St. Bonaventure – and they were tall – in the second round before bowing out in the quarterfinals against (No. 1 overall seed) Sun Valley Village Christian.”
Along the way, Mendez has earned a number of honors.
She was second team All-League and All-County in her sophomore year, first team All-League and All-County in her junior year and is the Los Padres League’s co-defensive Player of the Year this year.
And Mendez isn’t just a star on the basketball court.
“She was a setter on our girls’ basketball team, earning second team All-League honors, and she runs the 100, 200 and 4x100 and, if we can talk her into it, the 4x400 in track,” said Nipomo Athletic Director Russ Edwards. “She’s a real throwback athlete playing multiple sports. I’m really proud of her. She’s an amazing student, an amazing athlete, just an all-around amazing kid. She really epitomizes the athletic spirit we have at Nipomo.”
And that’s not all.
When Mendez isn’t hitting the books or the playing field or working with special Olympians, the 5-foot sparkplug is the point guard for Mike Alexander’s Swoosh Elite Basketball team.
“I was her club coach. I train all the girls that play against my Santa Ynez High girls’ basketball team,” said Alexander who is also the Santa Ynez girls’ varsity basketball coach. “I’m very proud of her. Kylie getting the scholarship to San Diego Christian is like me winning a trophy. She deserves it. Kylie is a tremendous kid, one of the best point guards I’ve ever had.”
In fact, it was at one of the Swoosh Elite’s tournament that Mendez caught the eye of SDCC head coach Jerry Irvin.
“Coach Irvin saw her play in a Swoosh tournament last summer and they’ve been in contact ever since,” said Alexander.
“My time at Nipomo was really fun. It has been the best time of my life,” said Kylie Mendez. “I’m proud of what we did as a basketball team, going to CIF three straight years and making the quarters this year.
“I love all my teammates. I know we’ll be best friends for life.”
But shortly after the track season ends, Kylie will graduate. Then she’ll be on to the next chapter of her life.
“I’m a little nervous about moving to San Diego but, at the same time, I’m really excited. It’s time for me to Venture out. I’m excited to meet new people, to play on my new team. I know this is a good decision for me. I’m ready to pursue my goals but I know I’ll have to push myself and work hard to accomplish my goals.”
With one of those goals to move into the starting point guard position for the Hawks.
“I want to make a name for myself – help the program,” said Mendez.
But before that, Mendez still has to finish her senior year and final track season.
And before that, it was time to party.
After speaking with reporters, Kylie Mendez took center court in the Nipomo High gym for her birthday party.