Considering that Safi Ayinde (21 points) and Jill Picinich (20 points) form the two-headed monster that’s powered Mepham to an 11-1 start, it’s mighty surprising to hear coach Jim McManus mention another player as his team MVP.
“The most valuable, the most important person on my team is Sali Ayinde, Safi’s sister,” McManus said. “She is the heart and soul of our team.”
Playing sweeper, Sali doesn’t get to rack up the stats of her teammate and identical twin. But she directs the action. And there’s been a whole lot of action for Mepham this year, as the Pirates have scored 62 goals.
“Sali is the quarterback of our team,” McManus said. “Everything’s in front of her.”
Sali and Safi came up together as eighth graders, and after sticking together through five years of varsity soccer, they’ll both attend Iona College on soccer scholarships next fall.
If Sali gets a few more scoring opportunities in college, McManus is confident she’ll know what to do.
“Without a doubt in my mind,” he said. “If I had her up front this year, she’d be getting all these points.”
But this year, it’s been Safi and Picinich getting all those points. And if anyone would have counted out Picinich at the beginning of the year, it would be hard to blame them after she missed the entire 2009 season with an ACL injury.
“I remember her coming to games standing there watching, and eventually she stopped because it was too painful to watch and not play,” McManus said. “But when she came back, she’s mentally tough. The mental toughness to not be afraid, boy she has conquered that big time.
“Every time she goes down I cringe. She hops up. So she’s come back big time from a serious injury and worked really hard at it, really hard at it. She doesn’t wear a brace. She has no fear. she just goes out and plays soccer.”