By Tim Goodenow for MSNsportsNET.com
August 27, 2009
With the 2009 season underway, MSNsportsNET.com will get to know the nine freshmen on the West Virginia women’s soccer team. Today’s edition features midfielder Bri Rodriguez.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The National Soccer Coaches Association of America/adidas High School National Player of the Year, freshman Bri Rodriguez promises to uphold the tradition of talented midfielders in the West Virginia women’s soccer program.
Past Mountaineer teams have thrived in the midfield behind players like Rachel Kruze, Lisa Stoia, Marisa Kanela, Laura Kane, Amanda Cicchini and Carolyn Blank.
Rodriguez, an Aurora, Ill., native, arrived on campus knowing there were big shoes to fill but has embraced the challenge.
“I think coming in, my goal was to be a starter,” said Rodriguez, a 2009 PARADE All-American. “I knew it would require a lot of hard work and I had to arrive in good shape.”
Coach Nikki Izzo-Brown takes great pride in knowing her teams are in top shape and can work the extra sessions to pull out a victory. During Rodriguez’s recruitment, she witnessed former WVU All-American Cicchini work end line to end line, making plays for her team.
“Amanda did such a good job the last four years and I knew it would be hard to match her level of play right away,” said Rodriguez of her first-year expectations. “As far as being all-BIG EAST or anything, I’d like that but I’m not too concerned about it. I’m just trying to do what the coaches want me to do right now.”
To this point, Rodriguez has done all the things asked of her by the coaching staff. That includes surviving a grueling two weeks of preseason that an onlooker might mistake for boot camp.
“The whole preseason camp was really long and pretty tiring,” admitted Rodriguez. “But it allowed us to improve each day and figure out the style and tendencies of one another. It was a lot of hard work but a lot was accomplished for our team in those two weeks.”
Included in the preseason was a two-day trip to New River Gorge in the southern part of West Virginia. There, the Mountaineers got to know one another through a series of team-bonding exercises while camping, rafting and participating in a ropes course.
“Our entire team really enjoys being around each other both on and off the field,” offered Rodriguez. “We also had a team-bonding trip that was fun. It really helped our freshman class get to know the upperclassmen better.”
While Rodriguez and her teammates were adjusting socially, there was also challenge for all newcomers in adjusting to the speed of the game on the collegiate level.
“It has definitely been a lot faster, but I know more game reps will make it more natural for me,” said Rodriguez. “The Maryland (exhibition) game was a bit of a wake-up call on how fast and how physical things were. A week later against Ohio State I think I played much better.”
Rodriguez was one of four freshmen to start in WVU’s season-opener against Ohio State. In fact, seven of their 11 starters were freshmen and sophomores.
Despite a roster filled with young talent, Izzo-Brown again has challenged her team to compete against some of the nation’s top programs. This weekend, the Mountaineers compete in the Penn State Invitational to face a pair of 2008 NCAA tournament teams in Penn State and BYU.
“I knew that Nikki (Izzo-Brown) would schedule the best teams in the country. She has for several years and I like that as a player,” said Rodriguez. “She wants us to be a championship team and playing the best teams will help us get to that point. Ohio State was a tough opponent to start and it gets tougher with Penn State this weekend.”
There is plenty to learn for Rodriguez in her first season in Morgantown. Yet, there are plenty of resources available for Mountaineer freshmen to succeed. For Rodriguez, her most useful resource could just be a teammate.
“Carolyn (Blank) has been my running partner and it was nice to see how hard she works,” said Rodriguez. “She is a great player and someone that I look up to. And not only on the field, but off the field as well. Playing the same position and being around her since preseason has been very valuable for me.”
The transition from leaving high school to becoming a collegiate freshman is tough for every student. There is also a natural maturation process that comes with stepping into a program of West Virginia’s caliber. So far, Rodriguez has made all the right moves. And if she follows Blank’s example, Rodriguez will likely earn that All-America label before her career is over.