Amber Mello’s junior varsity soccer career was a brief, but eventful one. It was the team’s first scrimmage and Mello, who was an eighth-grader at the time, had pumped in two quick goals. That was all the new Mattituck High School varsity coach, Ed Barbante, needed to see. He quickly sent a player to fetch Mello and bring her over to the varsity field.
After only 20 minutes of JV action, Mello had been promoted to the varsity squad, where she has remained ever since.
“That cemented her as a varsity player from there on out,” Barbante said. “I had a special player right from the get-go.”
Now Rider University (N.J.) has a special player.
Wearing a Rider sweatshirt and a smile on her face, Mello, took the next step in her glorious soccer career. With the stroke of a pen, the three-time all-state central midfielder/forward, confirmed her college choice, signing a national letter of intent on Wednesday to play for the NCAA Division I school. Wednesday is National Signing Day, the first day a high school senior can sign a binding national letter of intent for a college.
In making Rider her college of choice, Mello may once again play alongside her older sister, Demi Mello, who is a sophomore midfielder for the Broncs.
“It’s very relieving and exciting, and I just can’t wait,” Amber Mello said after the signing ceremony in the Mattituck High School library. “All the hard work has been worth it.”
Mello said she had settled on Rider at the beginning of the year and had not seriously considered any other colleges. She said her sister’s presence was an influence, but more factored into her decision, such as academics, making Rider a good fit for her. She said she wants to study business, and Rider has a good business school. Mello also likes the rural campus, which she said reminds her of Mattituck.
“It’s very exciting,” said Barbante, who participated in the signing ceremony along with Mattituck’s athletic director, Greggory Wormuth. “It just goes to show the commitment that these players have, on and off the field. Amber has been a tremendous player for me for the past five years. It’s a sad day in one way that we’re losing such a great player and a great person, but it’s an exciting day as well to see her move on to her future endeavors and hopefully have an even better college career.”
Amber Mello scored eight goals and assisted on nine others to help take the Tuckers (9-5-3) to the Suffolk County Class B final last season. She finished her varsity career with 49 goals and 48 assists.
Rider Coach Drayson Hounsome said having a player of Amber Mello’s talent is great for his program.
“I think she’s going to bring a lot of creativity, a lot of offensive options,” Hounsome, the 2010 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, told The Suffolk Times in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I’m hoping she’s going to score a bagful of goals. She makes people around her play better as well. It’s all there. We’re excited to get her in there and see how far she can take it at the Division I level.”
The prospect of reuniting the Mello sisters could be an intriguing one for Rider, which was a MAAC semifinalist last year, finishing with a 9-8-2 record. When the two played together for Mattituck, the more offensive Amber Mello usually played up top while Demi Mello patrolled the center midfield. Amber Mello said she envisions herself as an attacking midfielder for Rider.
Demi Mello, who was an all-state player herself for the Tuckers, played in all 19 of Rider’s games and started 18 of them as a freshman. Last season she was hampered by injuries, playing in 12 games with seven starts. Over the two seasons, she has a goal and an assist, with 16 shots taken.
Hounsome said he sees similarities in the Mello sisters in terms of their vision and fine passing ability. Talking about Amber Mello, the word that came to his mind was “balance.” He said: “When you see a player that’s got great balance, it just stands out. She can shoot with the ball, run with the ball. Everything looks comfortable.”
It’s the sort of stuff Barbante has seen time and time again over the past five years.
“With the ball on her foot, it was hard for anyone to take it away from her,” he said. “Her vision, she saw things that other players cannot see or don’t see, and with that said, that’s a huge part of the game that you can’t coach. You need the instincts, and she had the instincts.”
Division I players are a rare breed, representing the elite of the elite high school athletes.
“The truth of the matter is, very few reach this level, so Amber is to be congratulated and commended for all her dedication and passion to her sport and all that she put in to achieve this level,” Wormuth said. “She’s very confident and controlled on the field. She takes over the game just by using her skills, things that she’s worked on to get to this level. If she continues to carry that positive outlook on life, just the way she handles herself, she’s going to be successful at anything she does.”
For Barbante, the signing ceremony was a bittersweet occasion.
“She was a tremendous asset here,” he said. “I’m very excited for Amber. I’m looking forward to seeing her be successful in college, but it’s a sad day for Mattituck soccer as we lose another star player.”