Her emergence as a star three-sport athlete and elite travel lacrosse player did not just happen overnight or come as a surprise to family or friends, teammates or coaches. Sofia Mancino’s talent was evident from an early age during recess at Sag Harbor Elementary and on the practice fields at Mashashimuet Park.
But the fruits of that labor along with a truly unabated love for sports is now starting to blossom.
Mancino, 15, a rising sophomore at Pierson High School, spent the last school year as a starter, leader and one of the top players on the Lady Whalers’ volleyball, basketball and softball teams, where she earned All-Conference, All-League and All-Division honors, respectively, at an age where simply making the varsity team is an accomplishment in itself.
Because lacrosse is a shared sport at East Hampton High School — where the Lady Bonackers struggled to a 1-15 record this year — Mancino, who picked up lacrosse in sixth grade, decided instead to focus on the summer travel season, which starts in late spring and runs throughout July and early August.
“I started playing lacrosse instead of softball because softball wasn’t as competitive,” said Mancino, who this summer tried out for and made the elite freshman team with the Brookhaven Bandits program, which will travel across the Northeast for tournaments popular among college coaches. “When I was younger, I also played baseball because the softball program wasn’t as built up or competitive.”
What’s interesting about Mancino is that the word “competitive” comes up a lot, but not in terms of winning and losing. There is an internal battle going on, a drive to improve and a desire to make her teammates better. On the volleyball court, most of Mancino’s efforts revolve around setting up her teammates. She often defends the opposing team’s best player during basketball season and was the varsity catcher for softball this past spring, even after having not played competitively for more than a year.
“I admire her commitment to her sports because I’m sure it’s hard for her to dedicate so much time to them, with school and especially as a teenager,” said Janet Conde, Mancino’s mom and most dedicated travel partner. “I’m sure there are times she’d rather be with her friends than spending her weekends traveling to tournaments, but I know she wouldn’t be putting all this time in if she really didn’t have a passion for it.”
Mancino played an assortment of sports as a child — swimming, running, triathlons, basketball, baseball and pretty much whatever else was happening on the schoolyard grounds. She played Little League baseball with mostly boys and excelled. Competition against boys was nothing new for Mancino, who says she was never much of a “girly girl” and loved getting caught up in competition whenever there was a chance. Again, it wasn’t just winning she was after, but the joy and the excitement of the chase.
“Losing isn’t a huge thing for me,” said Mancino, whose Bandits team this summer is stacked with young talent from one of the most talent-rich hotbeds for the sport of lacrosse in America. “That’s not make-or-break for me as a player. I feel like as long as I’m improving my stick skills or my skills as a teammate, I’m okay with losing.
“But it’s difficult at times,” she added about the grind of competing 12 months a year. “It can be stressful, but sports have always come first for me. I was never going to give up travel lacrosse, whether I played with the school or not. And with softball, it was a lot of fun this season. Being around my friends was a slight factor, but I wasn’t just playing to be around them. I was playing to play and I wanted to stay fit.”
Traditionally, the lacrosse program at East Hampton High School has struggled against some of the best competition in the nation. But there have, at times, been glimpses of greatness and there are currently two other Pierson players in Grace Perello and Emma Rascelles, who might also go on to play the sport at elite, collegiate levels. Would Mancino, who played varsity for East Hampton as an eighth-grader, consider re-joining them under head coach Jessica Sanna next season?
“I’m not 100 percent sure as to what I’ll do next year,” said Mancino, who also works during the summer at the Serene Green farm stand in Noyac. “Volleyball, definitely, basketball, definitely, and travel volleyball and travel lacrosse. But I’m not sure yet about the spring season.”
Mancino plays midfield for the Bandits and is as comfortable on defense as she is on offense. And while she felt early on that volleyball would be her chosen path to collegiate athletics, in recent years, there has been a shift in her focus as she throws every ounce of her energy into this summer’s travel lacrosse season.
“Even as a little kid she never said no to training for her triathlons or going to any practice,” her mom said. “I could see a level of commitment that was rare for someone her age. She always knew she wanted to play sports at a higher level, and in this day and age it means being on a travel team where there’s more exposure.”
Mancino started her lacrosse career in sixth grade on a youth team in East Hampton, and then played for the E3 travel team during her seventh grade year. She played for the Bandits following her eighth-grade season at East Hampton, and now is a member of the program’s elite group of rising sophomores.
“The majority of the girls on her current team have been playing lacrosse since they were young and most of them, like Sofia, want to play in college,” said Conde, whose husband, Justin, spends his weekends traveling with their son, Dominick, 13, who plays travel baseball. “Many people say we are crazy doing all this traveling but my response is always, ‘I get to spend time with my daughter, watch her play a sport she absolutely loves and is great at.’ So I’d say I’m pretty fortunate.”
And it’s obvious, after spending just a few moments with her daughter, that the feeling is mutual.
“I really enjoy it,” said Mancino. “I’m outside, playing a sport I love. The beach, I can go to during the week or after work. Playing lacrosse, and all the other sports I play, is something I love.”