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Pearl Mensah sacrifices volleyball for academics at Villanova

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It was an extremely difficult choice. Pearl Mensah earned Division I interest in two different sports – volleyball and basketball – but might not be playing either one of them in college next year.

The Cardinal Spellman senior will, instead, attend Villanova on a full academic scholarship and try to walk on to the women’s volleyball team there.

The 6-foot-1 middle hitter is free to try out the second day of school, but coach Josh Steinbach, who saw her play with the Creole Big Apple volleyball club at a tournament in Baltimore, told Mensah she probably won’t be able to redshirt and her development is far behind his incoming recruits.

She could have played volleyball at Vassar or even Division I Albany, but she saw everything she wanted in Villanova, from strong school spirit to the major and academics she desired.

“I love volleyball,” said Mensah, who was also the starting center on the Falcons girls’ basketball team. “That’s why I traveled 1 ½ hours to Queens [for Creole] twice a week after basketball practice to play it. But my education – that, to me, is the most important thing.”

That doesn’t mean she won’t try her hardest to make the team in September. Mensah was the FiveBoroSports.com All-Bronx girls’ volleyball Player of the Year and a FiveBoroSports.com All-City first team selection in the fall. She carried Spellman on her back to the CHSAA Archdiocesan championship match and almost willed the Falcons to victory before they succumbed to St. Catharine Academy. Long and athletic, Mensah was hard to stop at the net and was a blocking machine.

“Pearl’s a player who doesn’t get intimidated by the opposing team,” said Alicja Pawelec, her Creole teammate. “She never loses her head and can be the player that makes a difference. … She’s the player that steps up in a time of need. She feeds on her team’s momentum and doesn’t let her teammates’ mistakes get to her head. When she’s playing her best game, you know you’re going to win or have a very close game.”

There were more than a few college volleyball coaches who wanted her services. Albany and Binghamton showed interest. Mensah even got letters from Division I basketball schools like Manhattan, Hofstra, Sacred Heart and William & Mary. Volleyball, though, emerged as her priority by junior year.

Unfortunately for Mensah, the one time Steinbach saw her play was a disaster. Creole had a less-than-successful trip to Baltimore for the Northeast Qualifier.

Mensah will make that trip back and forth to Queens College, where Creole practices, plenty of times this season to get ready for that try out. The Bronx native, who started playing volleyball freshman year of high school, knows it’s a long shot and she is behind the 8-ball when it comes to the team’s other recruits. But that won’t make it any easier if she doesn’t make the team.

She has other options, of course. Mensah is a straight-A student who plans on entering a program at Villanova that would get her a bachelor’s degree in business and a law degree in six years.

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