Don’t get the idea that she’s looking ahead; the only thing Destiny Rodriguez and her mates are thinking about is Tuesday’s bi-district playoff game at San Benito. But after North (12-2) wrapped up second place last week, the Lady Cougar junior wing took a moment to discuss her long-term calendar.
“I have been trying to pick it up, to get better every game, because the coaches are demanding it,” said the sturdy and versatile three-year varsity starter. “They tell me that I have to be one of the ones who is going to lead the team next season, we’re going to have it on our shoulders as seniors.”
Against bitter foe EHS Monday, Rodriguez was tremendous, with perhaps the best performance she’s had as a Lady Coog. Following a two-goal blast against P-SJ-A Memorial, she scored again versus the Lady Bobcats, on a second-half header off a corner kick from senior Paige Gutierrez. But that sweet goal was just the tip of the iceberg.
Rodriguez dominated the action at times with hustle and her combination of outstanding strength and growing quickness. She came on the North scene as a physically imposing freshman, and has scarcely left the field since.
Ranging far and wide on the right wing in support of a young and improving North defense Monday, she gave hard licks, made runs at the goal, and pulled off a handful of her patented cannon-shot throw-ins.
“Actually, it’s kind of embarrassing,” she laughed when asked about the Lady Coog fan base’s recent custom of screaming “Boom!!” right when she lets her mammoth inbounds tosses go. Three times her arching two-handers made it all the way to the box; on one first-half rocket, EHS keeper Adriana Lopez had to leap to keep the ball from finding the net.
Rodriguez has a ton of impetus for making improvement every week, besides knowing that in 2010 she will be one of the vets after stars Katy Lipscomb and Gutierrez graduate. One is the coaching staff led by Danny Valdez and Raul McCullum.
“They’re always yelling for me to go for it, go for it…but they’re perfectionists,” said the engaging junior. “And since I am the baby in my family, it’s time for me to step up at home too. My mom is always bugging me to get more aggressive. She says if the other teams push, I have to push back.”
Rodriguez had had little trouble pushing back this year, especially since she came into camp in the best shape of her life. She admits to having been a little out of form as a sophomore.
“I don’t know, I was in eating mode or something,” she giggled. “But this year we have been running more, and it’s helped us get in shape,” she commented. “I feel faster, I think I have just worked harder to get stronger.”
And North had the stamina to finish off a pesky city rival in the finale. After Lipscomb converted a penalty kick in the second half and Rodriguez made it 2-0 later, the girls had wrapped up a successful regular season. But for a program that has gotten used to riding deep into the playoffs, the work was just beginning.
The Lady Coogs finished second in District 31-5A behind Harlingen South, and will face off against San Benito on the road, after having taken five playoff victories combined the past two postseasons
“We started a little slow tonight, and sometimes we just see what the other teams are going to do before we really get going,” Rodriguez explained. “We can’t do that in the playoffs. But this year has been a lot of fun, we have a real team out there, Katy has been preaching that teamwork to us all year. I hope to be able to make that kind of impact next year as a senior, it’s what I have been waiting for all these years.”
NOTES: EHS (8-6, 15-11) will also be in the playoffs, as it has been for six of the past eight years. Despite a fast start with eight shots on goal in the first 30 minutes, the Lady Bobcats were blanked by Lady Coog goalkeeper Mercedes Mendoza. Once again, finishing the play was a challenge; they were shut out five times in district and scored just once in three other games. The Lady ‘Cats drew 32-5A champ Brownsville Pace in bi-district.
The North boys were set to take on Los Fresnos in bi-district Tuesday, after senior Virgil Pena closed out the regular season with his third hat trick of the year, in the finale against EHS. Pena is among the Valley’s scoring kings, with 23 goals, and credits his success to a position switch.
League king Econ prepared for a first-rounder against Brownsville Hanna, as city boys’ schools go into the playoffs as prohibitive favorites. Both Los Fresnos and Hanna were .500 (7-7) in District 32-5A action.