Margaret Rodriguez has seen UConn soccer from all angles. As a player from 1995-1998, she saw the height of the program when it reached at least the Elite Eight every season from 1993-2000 including a 1997 trip to the national title game. As a coach, she’s seen the Huskies fall off their pedestal as one of the nation’s elite programs, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever in 2008 and three more times since.
But now that she has the reigns of the program following Len Tsantiris’ retirement, Rodriguez has a vision for getting the program back where it belongs.
“UConn has always been known for hard-working, blue-collar talent and that’s something that I’m really going to hone in on these next couple of years,” she said. “That’s been our pride and our backbone for the program and I think we need to go back to those roots a little bit more.”
Since she’s been an assistant for the last 10 years, Rodriguez already has a strong grasp of both the players on the team as well as the program as a whole, which gives her a step up as she takes on the head role.
“I know UConn inside and out. I know the players and their tendencies already,” she said. “I know my recruits going forward for [the classes of] ‘18 and ‘19 are all committed and were my recruits. They were my vision of what I felt needed to come into UConn. That’s the one thing that’s going to be great is that there are no unknowns right now for me.”
Her first chance to work with the team will be during the spring season, which is focused on development and coaching. Rodriguez’s top goal is to build a team identity and stick with it.
“I think a lot of mine and the players’ frustration was a little bit of misunderstanding what our playing style is the last couple of years and having an identity,” she said. “So right off the bat in January and February, we’re going to figure out who UConn women’s soccer is and we’re going to be on the same page on who we are.”
Despite coming off a losing season, the Huskies are primed to return to the NCAA Tournament and compete at the top of the American Conference sooner rather than later. They feature a bevy of young talent paired with a strong rising senior class. If anything, one down season will only help them moving forward.
“Coming off our past two seasons where we went 19-3-1 and 19-4, losing sort of woke us up a bit and made us aware of what it takes to get back to that,” Rodriguez said. “I think we’re humbled and we’re ready to work and I think that’s what you need.”
While changing coaches are never easy, Tsantiris worked hard to put the program in a good position both for him to retire but also so it would reflect well on his prodigy.
“His mission the last couple years was to bring the program back a little bit in a better position so he could say, ‘Look how successful we’ve been, Mags is the reason for this,’” Rodriguez said.
Not only was Rodriguez Tsantiris’ personal choice to take over for him, he made sure she was prepared for the job as well.
“He allowed me the freedom to do a lot within the program,” she said. “I’ve had my hands in every aspect of the program the last five or six years. He’s allowed me to make a lot of decisions based on what I thought.”
Although she learned the ropes from the legendary coach, Rodriguez wants to put her own mark on the program and do things her way.
“I’m definitely not Lenny. I learned a lot from him and a little bit of his philosophy will carry over as far as how he treats the players,” she said. “But my vision for the program is first, we want to win, be successful and graduate these players. We’re also going to be organized and a little bit more structured and have more accountability within our program.”
Rodriguez’s tenure as the head coach extends far beyond whatever success it has; she understands better than most what UConn women’s soccer means to the people who helped build it.
“I have the utmost pride in this program and I want to do right by it for the alumni, for the future of the this program and also for Lenny and what he’s done over the last 37 years.”