The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 23, 2014

Former Woodrow star excelling at Pfeiffer

By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer

— Want to practice soccer?

In Beckley, with all the snow and cold, forget it.

But in Charlotte, N.C., where former Woodrow Wilson all-stater Kayla Rodriguez now stars at Pfeiffer University, no problem.

“We don’t have snow down here. It’s really rare — nothing like home,” she said. “They thought we’d get some snow, but we never did. It’s been chilly, though.”

They’re enthusiastic about spring practice at Pfeiffer, which won the 2013 Conference Carolinas tournament championship and earned a berth to the NCAA Division II tournament.

 Rodriguez, an offensive center-midfielder, had a fine season for the 13-7-1 (6-3 conference) Falcons. She was second in scoring with six goals, and led the squad with eight assists.

In a reminder of her high school days, she pulled off a hat trick against Chowan on Oct. 9 in just 9:44 minutes of play.

Her proudest moment, however, came when Pfeiffer avenged an earlier loss to Belmont Abbey with a 1-1 (5-4 penalty kicks) victory in the conference tournament.

Rodriguez, named tournament MVP for her all-around play,  drilled the Falcons’ first of five PKs.

Although she’d taken numerous penalties throughout her career, this might have been the toughest.

“It was terrible. The fans were yelling the entire time,” she said. “They knew which side I was going. They were screaming, ‘She’s going right! She’s going right’”

Undaunted, she maintained focus and fired the shot hard to the right, well out of the reach of the Belmont Abbey goalkeeper.

“It was scary, but I still went right and I scored,” she said.

Pfeiffer’s season ended in its next game, a 3-0 decision against, strangely enough, Belmont Abbey, in the NCAA tournament.

The postseason saw Rodriguez rack up the honors. She was named a first-team All-Conference Carolinas midfielder, an All-Region midfielder and was selected to the Academic All-Conference team for maintaining a grade point average of 3.25 or above.

Rodriguez played down her own accomplishments.

“We had a really solid team with a lot of returning players,” she said. “Every girl on the team was extremely talented, and we worked really well together.”

A two-time first-team all-stater at Woodrow, Rodriguez made a smooth transition to college ball. She began starting at Pfeiffer as a freshman, and established herself in the offense as a sophomore with four goals and five assists.

She missed several games with a concussion last year, and was out a couple of weeks last fall with an ankle sprain. Otherwise, she’s started every game.

“I’ve improved a lot,” she said. “We have a really great coach (Elijah Denton). He trains us well.

“I’m majoring in pre-med and biology, and it’s really hard. But Coach is extremely understanding. He knows school comes first.”

Playing for a D-II team also is a benefit. Pfeiffer is not playing around the country.

“The farthest we go for a game is Georgia,” Rodriguez said. “You bring your homework.”

Many players have personal goals. Rodriguez’s revolve around the Falcons.

“It’s more about my team. We’re a family,” she said. “I want to win the conference again, and win some games in the national tournament. I think we can at least make it to the Elite Eight.”

For now, however, it’s spring practice. Lots of running and weightlifting, and three games.

But no snow.

— E-mail: dstillwell