The tables have certainly turned since Jasmine Rodriguez stepped on the field for the Lufkin Lady Panthers’ soccer team.

She started her career as the only freshman on a team that had experience in other positions. Now as a senior, she is a leader on a young team that provides invaluable leadership for a squad that shook off a slow start to stand atop the district.

In her fourth and final year, Rodriguez has done her best to make sure this year’s Lady Panthers go out on a winning note.

“The experience I’ve got here helps me realize that no matter what happens, you’ve got to push through on the field,” Rodriguez said. “You’ve just got to focus on the game and believe the hard work is eventually going to pay off.”

That mentality has paid off in many ways for Rodriguez. With a roster playing several freshmen and sophomores, the Lady Panthers struggled throughout the pre-district portion of their schedule.

Instead of letting that start discourage them, Rodriguez helped the team learn from their mistakes once the district schedule started. That beginning is now a distant memory as the team is 10-1-1 in district action.

“It started out pretty rough,” Rodriguez said. “We had a brand new team, but we really started coming along and got used to playing together. The girls all motivate each other, whether they’re freshmen or seniors.”

Lufkin’s last appearance on the field was the highlight of the season. In a game featuring the top two teams, Lufkin took a hard-fought 3-1 win over Whitehouse.

That win gave Lufkin a four-point differential in the standings, meaning it would need only one win or one Whitehouse loss in order to clinch the district title. There are two games remaining on the regular season schedule.

That race has been put on hold at least momentarily, although it doesn’t dull the shine of that victory.

“That felt pretty amazing,” Rodriguez said. “We were all ready for that game, and we all wanted to be district champions.

“It was pretty emotional for everybody when it was all over from the players to the coaches to the fans.”

Rodriguez’s team-first attitude has been on display in her four seasons. She was primarily a defender for the team throughout her first two and a half years.

She has moved to the midfield position in each of the last two years, although she is still capable of playing either spot on the field.

“She doesn’t get a lot of recognition or the stats just because of the position she plays,” Lufkin head coach Antonio Encarnacion said, “but those that truly know about the game will tell you she is one of the most important players on our team.”

When her time with the Lady Panthers is over, Rodriguez will continue her playing career at the collegiate level. She recently committed to play for the Angelina College Lady Roadrunners, which will be led by first-year head coach Nataki Stewart.

“That was exciting just because not a lot of girls get the chance to play college ball,” Rodriguez said. “It’s good to know I’ll still be playing after college. I know I’ll need to bring the same focus there in order to be successful.

Encarnacion said both the leadership and ability she has shown will make her a solid player at Angelina College.

“She just does so much and keeps our team balanced,” Encarnacion said. “She is the backbone of the team and we’re going to miss her a lot. She will be a great addition for Coach Stewart.”

Josh Havard’s email address is josh.havard@lufkindailynews.com.

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