NEW PORT RICHEY — Kristen Rodriguez was not happy.
Her wrestling match against Countryside’s Alexi Santiago had just ended, and the River Ridge High sophomore was on the wrong end of a hard-fought 7-0 defeat. She removed her headgear and sat on the front row of the bleachers, dejected.
Yet, a wrestler from a competing team in the tournament offered encouragement.
“At least you didn’t get pinned,” he told Rodriguez.
Rodriguez forced a spurious smile, then looked back down. What the other wrestler didn’t know is that close losses don’t make Rodriguez tick. According to her coach and teammates, Rodriguez is a tenacious competitor who wants to win every time she steps on the mat.
Rodriguez’s competitive fire, more than likely, comes from her father, David, who was a two-time state placer at Hudson High in 1990-91. When Kristen was a small child, her dad’s vision of family time was different than most.
“When I was a kid, my dad would clear out a space on the carpet of the living room,” Rodriguez said. “Me, my dad, sister and brother would all take turns wrestling. We would just have family wrestling nights.”
But that wasn’t enough for Kristen, who wanted to wrestle competitively. The Rodriguezes waited until this season to allow her to try out for the Royal Knights.
Coach Mitch Geier was immediately impressed.
“She came in there and she got after it,” Geier said. “Kristen is a very aggressive girl and she doesn’t back down from anything. She’s a little unorthodox, but we’re working with her, and she’s a quick learner.”
The results this year have been better than Geier could have imagined.
Wrestling in the tough 126-pound weight class, Rodriguez may have lost some close matches, but also she has pulled out some victories. Last weekend at the Logan Kushner Dual Tournament at Palm Harbor University High, Rodriguez recorded three pins in her 10 matches.
The tournament was a great experience for Rodriguez, who was able to wrestle Palm Harbor’s nationally ranked Jared Prince, the returning 3A state champion. Rodriguez was pinned by Prince in the second period, but she went at him the only way she knows how.
“It was pretty intimidating knowing how much more skilled he is than me,” Rodriguez said. “I just looked at it like it was any other match.”
Not only is she making her presence known on the mat, which makes her happy, Rodriguez is showing leadership with her teammates.
“Just recently, we had a player in practice who was complaining, and Kristen basically told him to stop complaining,” Geier said. “She’s already leads by example and now, she’s showing that she can lead vocally, too. I think she has a great future in this sport.”
Correspondent Steve Campbell can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @SCPascoTrib.