Senior Spotlight: Adriana Rodrigues
Adriana Rodrigues (Photo courtesy of Skip Tapp) Play Video
Adriana Rodrigues (Photo courtesy of Skip Tapp)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Carrying the momentum of a four-match winning streak, the Jacksonville University women’s soccer team will have a chance to lock up a bid in this year’s Atlantic Sun conference tournament and continue to contend for the right to host the semifinals and final when they make their last road trip of the regular season this weekend. On Friday night, the Dolphins (9-5-0, 4-1-0 A-Sun) take on the USC Upstate Spartans (3-8-3, 0-4-1 A-Sun) at 7 pm. They’ll then close out the weekend on Sunday at 1 pm in a match with the East Tennessee State Buccaneers (6-7-1, 2-3-0 A-Sun). Both matches will be available to stream live on ASun.TV.

With the strong play of the team this season and just three seniors on the roster, the future of JU women’s soccer is bright. Still, for the graduates in the Class of 2014, this season will be the final chance to break through and earn an NCAA Tournament berth in their stellar careers. This week we look at midfielder Adriana Rodrigues, who hopes to be able to combine her loves of soccer and journalism after her days at JU are over.

Born in St. Petersburg, Fla., Rodrigues was exposed to soccer from a very young age, playing as early as three years old in a boy’s youth league. Along with her older sister Andrea (who would go on to play for UCF from 2008-12), Adriana was instilled with the skills and flair still evident in her game today from her father, Adelino, who coached her throughout her youth and grew up in Brazil playing pick-up games.

With the coaching of her father and the constant push that comes with an equally-skilled older sibling, Rodrigues developed her game to the point that, at age 15, she flew to Brazil for a tryout with the U-17 Brazil National Team.

“My dad had to pay for the ticket to send me down there, so he asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this, and I told him he wouldn’t be wasting his money. I promised him this was all I wanted to do,” said Rodrigues. “Out of the 50 or so girls who tried out, two girls were picked and I was one of them. Then there was another camp with about 30 girls and they kept cutting, cutting, cutting, but I made the final roster.”

That team would go on to compete in the South American Cup in Chile in 2008, and Rodrigues again was selected for the team the next year with the U-17 World Cup, but an injury kept her out of competition. As she advanced to the next age group, a change in coaching staff for Brazil gave her second thoughts about her place on the team. Luckily, thanks to her Portuguese father, she had options in where she could compete internationally.

“When Portugal heard my sister and I had connections to the country, they gave us tryouts,” she said. “My sister went first and she made it, then I went over and made it as well. I was playing on the U-19 team and my sister was on the national team. Then once I turned 19, I got the call-up to the national team and we got to play together.”

While busy playing international tournaments across the globe, Rodrigues also had to make a college choice. Despite spending much of her sophomore and junior years of high school overseas, she was still able to graduate from high school early and in January 2010 began classes in the journalism school at the University of Florida. After playing spring ball with the Gators, a leg injury sidelined her as a freshman and forced her to redshirt. Looking for a clean start at a university that would combine a strong soccer program with a respected journalism program, Rodrigues discovered Jacksonville just as the Dolphins were in the midst of the 2010 season that saw them split the A-Sun regular season title and host the conference tournament.

“I was literally just Google-searching communication programs and soccer programs, and trying to find the best combination of the two,” said Rodrigues. “I saw that this was a pretty good communications program and I really loved the small class sizes. There are certain things, like video editing, where you need to be taught every little thing, and the small-knit classrooms here help you pick it up that much faster.”

Since beginning her sophomore year with the Dolphins in 2011, Rodrigues has always played an important role with the team even though she’s rarely been a starter. This season she has played important minutes in all 14 matches as a reserve and relishes the chance to see the game develop before she steps onto the field.

“I like to first of all see how the other team is set up and what they’re trying to bring to the table,” explained Rodrigues. “Then I can see what we’re doing to counteract them and see if it’s working or not. At halftime, I’ll always listen to the players who were on the field because they’ll tell us what they were seeing. I don’t just sit on the bench and have conversations, I sit there and watch and try to pick up on things that could help the team.”

That attention to the details of the match have helped her notch a goal and an assist this season. In an August 25 matchup against the Miami Hurricanes, JU was quickly down 2-0 but fought back and tied the score before halftime with Rodrigues supplying the tying goal. It came off a free kick from midfield and was a perfect representation of the skill and energy she brings to the Dolphin attack. After being substituted into the match just two minutes beforehand, she worked her way free in the box as Mary Sturgis sent a long ball in. With other players occupying the attention of the Hurricane defenders, Rodrigues controlled the ball on her left foot, flicked it into the air and volleyed the ball home with her right foot to the upper right corner of the net.

It’s that type of play that exemplifies why she hopes to be able to continue her soccer career after graduation. With her Brazilian heritage and the World Cup beginning there in eight months, her ideal situation is to continue to play the game while also contributing to the coverage – through broadcasting or writing – of everything going on in the country surrounding the massive event. Even if a playing career in Brazil doesn’t happen immediately, her commitment to a soccer career won’t change.

“Whether I would get an opportunity in Brazil or here in the U.S., or even if I had to go to Europe, I don’t really care, I just want to play,” said Rodrigues.

That of course is still a few months down the road. Before then, there’s the small matter of these last four regular season matches, plus whatever might happen as Jacksonville works its way into the Atlantic Sun Tournament. In third place in the conference currently but with a game in hand over the two teams ahead of them, the Dolphins are well-positioned to make plenty of noise before all is said and done. If they do, don’t be surprised if No. 8 in the green and gold comes up with an inspired bit of play that secures JU a win along the way.

“Speaking for all of us seniors, you don’t want to end your career with a bad taste in your mouth. It would be amazing to win a championship for myself, but also for my teammates. I really like this team. It’s nice to say that your teammates are your friends, because it’s not like that at every school. Winning something with your friends and for your friends is something totally different, and being a senior is just the cherry on top.”

Head Coach Brian Copham on Adriana Rodrigues:
“A-Rod is a dynamic, skilled player that has a great deal of creativity with the ball. She is a player that continuously works hard and makes players around her better with her distribution and technical ability. She is a positive player who brings a great deal of energy to the field and is a great teammate on and off the field.”

Jacksonville at USC Upstate
Jacksonville leads, 6-0-0
First Meeting: In USC Upstate’s first-ever league game, Jacksonville defeated the Spartans, 2-0, in Spartanburg on Sept. 28, 2007
Last Meeting: Last year in Jacksonville, Kaitlyn Bassett scored the first two goals of the match and Marie Weckhurst added one just after the hour mark as the Dolphins won, 4-0, on Oct. 21, 2012
Notable: After the 2-0 win in their first-ever meeting, the Dolphins have posted at least three goals in every match against the Spartans since. Bassett has four goals and two assists in two prior matchups against Upstate.

Jacksonville at East Tennessee State
Jacksonville leads, 7-3-2
First Meeting: Jacksonville posted a 2-1 win at home over the Bucs on Sept. 23, 2005
Last Meeting: In the first round of the Atlantic Sun Tournament, Bassett scored a goal seven minutes into overtime to advance Jacksonville into the A-Sun semifinals with a 2-1 victory on Oct. 27, 2012
Notable: JU and ETSU met twice in a span of eight days last season. The Dolphins won each by a score of 2-1. In the regular season matchup in Jacksonville, Bassett had the opening goal in the 25th minute and Miranda Fyfe followed in the 38th minute with the game-winner. The meeting of the two sides in last year’s conference tournament was the fourth time in the eight years they’ve been A-Sun foes that they’ve battled in an elimination match.