Answering The Call

  • By Tim Goodenow
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  • October 15, 2010 11:02 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Talent was never an issue for West Virginia women’s soccer player Bri Rodriguez last fall, but an ACL tear prior to her arrival in Morgantown and a steep learning curve to the college game offered plenty of obstacles in her first season as a Mountaineer.

She’s now deep into her sophomore campaign and those concerns have been addressed. Yet, Rodriguez can’t let go completely without wondering “what if” about a more than successful season where she earned BIG EAST all-Rookie Team honors.

“I would probably go back and change a few things,” said Rodriguez of her rookie season. “I don’t think I started to play like myself until the end of the year. It was my first time back on the field since I tore my ACL and there was some transition to a faster speed of play. So, I’d only rate my freshman performance a 6 out of 10.”

Often her own worst critic, head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown chuckled at Rodriguez’s harsh self analysis.

“I think at the beginning of last season she played at a 6 out of 10 level,” laughed Izzo-Brown. “But at the end of the season, she was playing more of an 8 out of 10 level. I don’t think she realizes what we asked her to do as a true freshman.

“I also think her knee held her back a little bit last year, where she became more confident to play through her knee (injury) as the season finished up.”

Thrown immediately into the fire, Rodriguez started all 23 matches in the midfield on a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament for the 10th straight season. At season’s end, the Aurora, Ill., native was playing at her highest level and was named to the 2009 BIG EAST Championship all-tournament team.

Looking for more from her PARADE All-American, Izzo-Brown challenged Rodriguez to pick up her play in season number two with the Mountaineers. Answering the call, Rodriguez tallied two goals in West Virginia’s first three matches this season.

“I knew my role would be expanded after losing such a competitor and talented player like Carolyn (Blank),” explains Rodriguez of her new role. “This was a year that everyone would have to step up and I was excited when Nikki approached me about bringing my game to another level.”

“Rod has adjusted to the college game,” said Izzo-Brown. “She’s done a really good job of progressing from going against youth players to now competing against women.

“She is such a smart player, playing to her strengths and knowing her limitations. This year we’ve asked her to be more aggressive offensively and she’s done just that. She’s improved her skill with her left foot and is really attacking the net for us.”

Rodriguez’s early season success has also drawn increased attention from opposing teams. She can often be found man-marked by the visiting team.

“I think you have to take it as a compliment that opposing teams see you as a threat,” said Rodriguez. “It can be frustrating at times to have someone on you the entire game. You just have to deal with it and work a little harder to set your teammates up or create a scoring chance for yourself.”

Rodriguez also credits Blank, a former Mountaineer and two-time All-American, for her development as a player.

“She was incredible to play with and I wish I could have one more year with her,” said Rodriguez. “She taught me so many things – hard work, leadership, how to contribute more defensively.

“What was so impressive to me was that it didn’t matter who we were playing. Carolyn got after the other team and gave 100 percent effort against everyone.”

The understudy transferred her learning experience into success this season. Through 14 games, Rodriguez has recorded four goals and five assists. She continues to raise her level of play as the Mountaineers enter a crucial final stretch with two weeks left to play.

“The team is playing well and to come off that difficult road stretch with four wins is huge,” said Rodriguez, who has tallied four assists in the last five matches. “We are getting better and better with each game. We are using each other more and really clicking on some combinations. We need to build off that momentum as we head into these last four games at home.”

The Mountaineers are looking for wins this weekend to secure a first round bye in the BIG EAST tournament and boost their NCAA resume.

“It’s always exciting to play at home in front of our fans,” said Rodriguez. “Last year we ended with four road games. This year we end with four at home. There is a lot at stake for us these next two weeks. We are hoping for good crowds and ask that everyone come out and support us.”

Editor’s Note: The Mountaineers take on Villanova tonight at 7 p.m. in their final “Dollar Night” of the season. On Sunday at 1 p.m., WVU will wear pink uniforms against Georgetown and make a check presentation at halftime for its 1 p.m. Breast Cancer Awareness game.

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