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UHV's Plasencia a pillar of soccer team

Oct. 7, 2012 at 5:07 a.m.

Vanessa Plasencia collides with  Alexx La Baume during practice in September.

Vanessa Plasencia may be one of those soccer players where her impact is not felt until well after she's moved on to other successful ventures.

The junior captain of the University of Houston-Victoria soccer team has been a pillar of the program since she stepped onto campus.

"With Vanessa, she wears her heart on her sleeve," said UHV soccer coach Adrian Rigby. "She is one of the leaders the girls can relate to. She's one of the hardest working girls on the team.

"She had a difficult year with tearing her ACL on the first day of preseason last year. Even with that she led us as best she could on the sidelines. I have a lot of respect for her. She has seen the team progress from Day 1 to what it is today. She's been a big part of that with her commitment to the program."

When Rigby says Day 1, he means it in the most literal sense. Plasencia participated in one of five open tryouts when the soccer program was started in 2010 "and we liked her from that moment on."

A torn ACL in her right knee ended her 2011 season. However, since returning in an Aug. 31 win over Schreiner University, the midfielder's game has evolved, as she returns to full fitness.

Vanessa recalls jogging on a track for a training session in August 2011. She made it through the first session, but in the second running session, she heard "that loud, nasty pop." She had a feeling what happened, but she didn't want to admit it to herself.

Before her injury, Plasencia was primarily a holding midfielder for the Jaguars. Her role was to protect the four defenders from attacks and distribute the ball in the middle of the field.

Upon returning, Rigby has felt comfortable putting the junior from Rosenberg anywhere in the midfield. That development also includes scoring the first goal of her career in a Sept. 13 win over Texas-Permian Basin.

Plasencia ran onto a through ball from her roommate Haydee Moran, rounded the Falcons goalkeeper for the goal. It was the Jaguars first on their way to a 3-1 win that afternoon.

"It's been hard," Plasencia said. "It's a lot of hard work for me trying to get back into shape. Trying to get back into the groove of things after playing almost every game my freshman year, then going (down) to a knee injury my sophomore year. This year, it's been a lot of hard work for me."

It has, but as the Jaguars (4-6) prepare to host Texas A&M International on Monday afternoon, they might have turned a corner in their season. The results may not show it, but Plasencia and her coaches believe the team is putting in more complete performances as the season wears on.

Plasencia has started the last three games for the Jaguars in midfield. Though UHV has lost all three contests, two of which by one-goal margins, Plasencia has provided leadership in the middle of the field.

"She's always there to help us . and she's really positive," said UHV central defender Darby Price. "She says really positive things that motivate us."

Price, a freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz., added her captain's leadership has helped her adjust to collegiate soccer. With a laugh, Price said Plasencia, and the Jaguars other midfielders, have made her job much easier.

"Our midfielders are so good about winning the first ball off goal kicks," Price said. "Our central midfielders are very good and that makes the defense look good."

The Jaguars enter October with a losing record, but they have a lot to play for in the last month of the 2012 season. Last year, the women's team was winless in its last eight games to close the season.

"It always comes down to working hard. Without hard work talent is nothing. Talent with hard work is everything," Plasencia said. "Everyone has some experience under their belt. They know what to expect, how to expect it and the aggressiveness and the pace of the game."

This might be the time of the year where Plasencia's impact might be more intangible. She said it will take a collective to prevent a late-season swoon from happening again. It wasn't easy watching the Jaguars limp to a 5-10-1 finish last year, but Plasencia is determined history will not repeat itself.

"To avoid that this year, it's going to take patience," Plasencia said. "If we don't have the patience to know that we can do it and we're too anxious to get it, we're going to fall apart."

With seven games in October, the Jaguars have a chance to prove their captain prophetic. Rigby believes the Jaguars are a good team, and good teams have leadership from within. The UHV head coach said his captain embodies that belief.

"I think the work rate is hopefully contagious to the other girls," Rigby said. "Being a young team, she can show the girls what they need to do and talk to them about her experiences and working hard through that."

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