Melendez overcomes series of setbacks to author comeback story in NWAC

September 24, 2021

Kiara Melendez

Anchorage’s Kiara Melendez probably thought she was cursed on the soccer field.

After a fabulous freshman season at West High, a series of setbacks prevented her from playing the final three seasons for the Eagles.

She still dared to dream of playing in college and the Portland Panthers provided that opportunity in the NWAC.

“Getting back to my old self has been a journey, but I’m slowly returning one goal at a time,” Melendez said.

Her comeback has been a huge success story as the Alaskan leads her team in scoring and is tied for third in the NWAC with five goals in nine games.

Since 2017 she has found the back of the net 23 times in 27 games.

“I never really considered myself to be a lethal goal scorer,” Melendez said. “I just knew whenever a shot was open, I had to take it.”

Portland is 4-0 when she scores a goal and 0-4-1 when she doesn’t.

In two of those wins, her goals added to the pile in comfortable victories. In the other two wins, however, her goals propelled Portland to victory.

Melendez netted a pair of goals in a 3-1 win over Umpqua and had the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Lane. The goal against Lane was her favorite this season.

“After receiving the pass, I turned with the ball to take on a defender, faked left, took a tough to my right and drove the ball up to the near top corner of the goal,” she said. “The game was intense from the beginning and after a hard-fought first half, it was a big relief to finally have scored a goal and keep that lead throughout the rest of the game.”

Melendez is grateful to be back on the field after missing each of the last three seasons – 2018 because of a detached retina, 2019 because of an ACL injury and 2020 because of COVID.

“I’m feeling great,” she said. “It’s been tough to truly and fully get back into soccer after several injuries and the pandemic. While each setback made me question if I should keep playing, I had an amazing group of players and coaches pushing me to continue.

“I can’t thank them enough because if it weren’t for them, I would’ve been done playing after high school.”