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Mendes leads hijinks at nationals; finishes 11th in GS

Michael Traum

Who says being at the U.S. Alpine National Championships is all work and no play.

In almost an afterthought, Jonna Mendes mentioned she finished 11th in Tuesday’s giant slalom and has an outside chance at this year’s overall title, with the slalom scheduled for today.

You see, there was mischief afoot – and Mendes was at the point.

The annual U.S. team banquet was slated for Tuesday night in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the site of this year’s nationals. And Mendes, an 18-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident who is quickly building a reputation as the women’s team prankster, was busy planning the evening’s hijinks.

“I can’t talk very long,” Mendes blurted from her Jackson Hole hotel room, “it’s rookie initiation night.”

Mendes and the other team veterans gave U.S. team rookies Julie Parisien, Alison Powers and Courtney Calise just one hour’s notice of what was in store. The three women would have to wear “nasty old prom dresses” purchased at a local thrift store to the dinner and awards presentation, a gala gathering which traditionally hosts the national team’s parents, family and coaches.

“They have to wear the dresses and can’t question it,” said Mendes, who wore new shoes, new pants and a black dress shirt. “And they had to sign a rookie contract.”

The “contract,” a light-hearted document drawn up by the veterans, stipulates, among many things, that the rookies have to treat the experienced skiers with unfettered respect. Additionally, any transgression toward a veteran would result in the rookies having to care for the vets’ skis for the entire 1998-99 season.

“They all signed. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Mendes, who didn’t elaborate on her rookie initiation last year, in favor of hurrying out the door to begin implementing the dress wearing.

Mendes doesn’t need to justify “playing around” after the super year she had for the United States. As this season winds down, Mendes lists an Olympic competition, a second-place at the Junior Worlds, selection as the top U.S. junior by Rolex and a second in the downhill at nationals among many highlights.

She’ll have a chance to add to that with the national slalom today and Nor Am finals later this week in British Columbia, where she’s stands to win the super-G overall title with a solid performance.

“(In the national’s GS) I could’ve done much better. But I’ve been training and focusing mostly on speed events. Eleventh is right where I should be,” she said. “I’m tired, beat up and my season has been long. But it has been awesome.”

Mendes plans to return home after the Nor Am finals.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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