West freshman makes her pitch

March 7, 2012 at 12:02 a.m.
Updated March 6, 2012 at 9:07 p.m.

West's Anhila Rocha (18) jostles for the ball with East's Madison Hawkins during the first half of the last meeting between the two teams. Rocha leads the Warriors with 25 goals in 18 games.

West's Anhila Rocha (18) jostles for the ball with East's Madison Hawkins during the first half of the last meeting between the two teams. Rocha leads the Warriors with 25 goals in 18 games.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

Anhila Rocha had dreams of becoming a gymnast. Those disappeared as soon as she realized how much of a joy she gets from scoring goals on a soccer field.

The Victoria West freshman can't really describe the feeling of scoring. But, anyone who watches one of her well-taken goals can see for themselves when she erupts in a bright smile and jumps to hug the teammate that assisted her most recent celebration.

Her most recent strike, Monday night, was one for the scrapbook. Her free kick from 30 yards away had the perfect trajectory, pace and placement to make it unstoppable.

The goal was Rocha's 25th in only 18 varsity games. She has added seven assists to help West (11-5-2) exceed the expectations of many outside the program this season.

"We're not going to base our team around one person," said West soccer coach James McCarter. "There are a lot of players on the team with key roles. Fortunately, Anhila's role is offensive."

"Watching her sister and seeing the likeness in their aggressiveness my expectations were that she would be up front and a force to reckon with, but with the knowledge that she was a freshman."

However, it was Anhila's first goal that changed her outlook on athletics.

"I remember trying to sign up for rec (soccer), and I was scared. My sister and my brother said 'Just give it a try and if you don't like it you can become a gymnast,'" Rocha recalled.

"I said 'OK,' In my first game my dad was with me, he would tell me where to go and what to do and I realized 'Wow, I really do like this.' I never thought of gymnastics anymore."

Rocha, who turns 15 on April 18, has played organized soccer for less than five years.

Most of her soccer education was in her backyard playing with her cousins as well as sister Nereyda and brother Rudy. She joked she didn't have much of a choice since she grew up in a Mexican household where two of her older siblings, as well as parents, Rodolfo and Veronica, played the game.

Anhila, as the youngest of four siblings, used to be afraid of those neighborhood kickabouts.

"I was always scared to play with them. I thought they were going to be better than me and I'm not going to be able to play at their level," Anhila said. "But my sister, she kept motivating me saying 'Just Go' don't worry about what everyone else thinks. They helped a lot."

Rocha wears No. 18 because her sister wore the number for Memorial and Victoria West. She even wore Nereyda's gray Lady Vipers T-shirt to a recent practice.

"My jersey to me is important to me, for some reason," Nereyda said. "To see her wear the same jersey I had on and wearing my blood, tears and sweat and to see her do the same thing. I am just so proud of her."

Nereyda, who now plays at the University of Houston-Victoria, said her sister is a little more aggressive and stronger than she is, but some people cannot tell the difference.

One opposing coach noted No. 18 also caused his team problems last year, thinking Anhila was Nereyda. It wasn't until later that he was told it was a different Rocha sister, and this one was a freshman.

If anything Anhila is continuing the family tradition of being a central midfielder. Her mother was a center midfielder, as was her sister. Though Anhila is deployed as a forward these days because of her touch, speed and vision, she occasionally drops to her preferred position to get more time and space in possession.

"She started on defense. There was not much I could tell her, because I was a forward at the time," Nereyda recalls. "As an attacker I would tell her to think before she acts. She has a leg and (back then) she didn't know how to use it. I taught her the techniques of the sport and how to use them more, as well as use her teammates and play hard."

Rocha said McCarter has frequently told her that if multiple players are trying to track her, that means a teammate is open in space. Usually, that teammate is sophomore Sarah Warner. The two underclassmen have formed such a bond that they have pregame routine and other quirks.

"We know where each other will be in a moment. I know that if I do this I will know she is there. Growing up, believing in each other and getting closer as a team. That should do us some good in the future as well as knowing what each other can do with the ball."

They will need that on-field telepathy Friday night.

West travels to district-leading Gregory-Portland in a game that might determine who wins the district. The Lady Cats are in first, while West is in third. If that wasn't enough motivation for the Warriors, Gregory-Portland wants to avenge their only district loss.

Rocha said so long as West is not cocky and focused at kickoff they have a chance to beat G-P again. Of course their chances increase exponentially should Rocha pick up a goal or assist, like she has done in seven of nine district games.

"She plays a different role because of her versatility," McCarter said. "She will drop back on defense. She will go up top at forward. She would be the water boy if I asked her."



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