Margaret Rodriguez was one of the greatest players to come through the UConn women’s soccer pipeline, recording 44 goals and 42 assists through her four years in Storrs, both of which rank in the top 10 in program history.
Now, two decades removed from her time playing in a Huskies uniform, she’s still donning blue and white. However, this time she’s wearing them as the head coach.
“If you were to paint a picture in your mind of what would the ideal situation be, to come back and be a head coach for your alma mater, it’s everything that I hoped for,” Rodriguez said.
After her time at UConn, she played professionally for three years with the San Diego Spirit and New York Power of the Women’s United Soccer Association.
She then went on to be the head coach at Santana High School in Santee, California before becoming an assistant at the University of Hartford, where they won the America East tournament and made an appearance in the NCAA tournament. For her efforts, she was named part of the 2006 America East coaching staff of the year. She has also been a member of the staff of various Olympic Development Program teams, including recently heading up the Girls U-15 Connecticut ODP team.
After her tenure at UHart, Rodriguez spent 10 years as an assistant coach at UConn under longtime head coach Len Tsantiris, who has really influenced who she is today.
“Coming back here to UConn, the experience that Lenny gave me was instrumental to my career,” Rodriguez said. “I got to do a lot here. I grew as a coach, I grew as a person and I started to get a lot of confidence under my belt.”
The 10 years of experience as a assistant in this program worked heavily to her advantage, especially when it came to the learning curve that comes with taking over a program. Usually, it takes some time for a new coach to learn the ins and outs of the program and school, but for Rodriguez, she was able to skip that step.
However, that is not to say that there was nothing to learn, as it was still an adjustment moving from assistant to head coach.
“I’m never one to say, ‘Hey, I know everything and I’m great,’” Rodriguez said. “That was actually the first thing I told the players is that I’m not going to be perfect, I’m going to make mistakes, but we’re here to trust each other and to grow together.”
The Huskies went 4-14 this season, Rodriguez’s first at the helm. While some key injuries did take their toll, the team took this season as a learning experience.
“I think we all learned and grew and got better as the season went on, and the team was completely bought in,” Rodriguez said. “When you have a season when you only get four wins, it can turn ugly, and it can be a struggle to show up day in and day out … This group was phenomenal, and we were positive. We walked away from games at the end of it feeling that we were the better team, we just have to mature and get the results.”
In one sense, this can be a good thing for a new head coach. Just like it did for the team, this past season has helped her to learn how to be a more effective leader. Rodriguez has also seen the growth in the team.
“For me, if it was easy, I wouldn’t have learned a lot. Every loss, everything you kind of swallow and you say, ‘Alright, what can we do differently? How can we grow? Who can we try here?’ And we’ve learned a lot of different things because of it.”
Jorge Eckardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.