Ashley Mendenhall has trouble flying under the radar when entering a room.
The La Salle University catcher and first baseman often lugs her equipment from class to class in a giant bag, sometimes showing up in her practice uniform. As a senior at Coatesville High School, she arrived at evening chorus rehearsals dirty from hours behind the plate and would wolf down her dinner before the group started singing.
Mendenhall is in her second season with the Explorers (7-21 overall, 1-7 Atlantic 10), coming off an impressive freshman campaign in which she played in all 46 of the Explorers’ games and started all but one.
At Coatesville, she became the team’s best hitter and one of the school’s best singers. Mendenhall was a member of the Meistersingers, the school’s “legacy choir,” which sings in several languages, including French, Latin, and Hebrew.
She was one of only a handful of athletes who found time for both, said Coatesville teacher Rita Tingle-Lewis, who taught Mendenhall and the chorus.
“We had a few athletes, some were more successful than others, but Ashley was definitely an exception to the rule,” Tingle-Lewis said. “There were some who couldn’t manage to do both. They would either not sing or not do the sport. She was one of the rarities that managed to do both.”
Every year, Mendenhall and her fellow singers put on a carol service for the holidays. Mendenhall, whose father teaches and coaches softball at Coatesville, said she grew up going to the choir’s performances and memorizing their songs when she was in grade school. She dreamed of being a part of the choir from the time she was 6.
“I would sit in the auditorium and be like, ‘I want to do this so bad,’ " said Mendenhall, who now has an annual invitation to the holiday concert to sing in an alumni choir. She plans to accept that invitation this year. She also sang at a funeral last year.
Mendenhall also reached the highest levels on the softball diamond. She made The Inquirer’s All-Southeastern Pennsylvania third team as a junior. But even after her dominant high school career, she didn’t expect to transition to meaningful at-bats so quickly at the college level.
Having to broaden her skill set to combat teams’ scouting of her tendencies and weaknesses was the biggest adjustment for the Downingtown native.
“All of a sudden, the pitchers are throwing their absolute best pitches to you knowing what you can and can’t hit,” Mendenhall said. “I was like, ‘They don’t know who I am. I’m just a kid from Coatesville who plays softball.’ But they knew my strengths and weaknesses, and that was a big shock to me. I was like, ‘This isn’t high school ball anymore.’ ”
Twenty-four games into her sophomore campaign, she’s batting .257 with eight RBIs and six doubles, production good enough to establish her as a leader despite her underclassman status.
After playing behind the plate most of last season, she now splits time between first base and catcher. The same demeanor that helped her master songs in different languages has helped her embrace her new leadership role.
“To see her transition into a vocal leader has been great,” Explorers coach Brooke Darreff said. “It’s a thing you look for in a catcher. They have to be decision-makers and understand the game. ... She’s a student of the game, extremely smart. She’s a perfectionist. This helps her leadership potential on the field."