Ex-Woodland soccer standout plays valuable role at UConn

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Former Woodland soccer star Alexa Casimiro is in her junior year playing at the University of Connecticut. –UCONN

STORRS — For two years, Alexa Casimiro has played a particular role for the UConn women’s soccer team. It has been an important role and the former Woodland High star has played it so well that her junior year is likely going to be more of the same.

She has no complaints.

“I’m definitely going to play a motivational role for the team,” Casimiro said. “Coming off the bench strong, bring a lot of energy to the game and maintain the pace and energy of the game. It’s what I like to do.”

She will do it this year for first-year coach Margaret Rodriguez, who took over for retired legend Len Tsantiris. Tsantiris spent nearly four decades at the helm of the Huskies, and for the last decade Rodriguez was his top assistant.

Coming off a disappointing season that saw the Huskies staying home for the NCAA Tournament, the transition to a new coach has been no transition at all. Given that the Huskies will be without their top two scorers from last year, Kess Elmore and Vivien Beil, both out with ACL injuries, lessening any upheaval in the coaching staff should help.

“There really hasn’t been a transition,” Casimiro said. “We all know Mags well. She recruited most of us. Really the only change was her bringing in a little bit of a different culture where we’re more disciplined and we hold each other accountable more. There’s a slightly different mindset this year, especially coming off last year.”

By necessity, Casimiro has to look at things a bit differently, too. As a nursing major, she has a packed academic schedule that will ramp up this season. There are going to be times when she’ll have to miss a road game, miss practices and miss weight-lifting sessions.

“This year is going to be tough for me (academically),” Casimiro said. “It’s a huge balancing act right now between me, the coaches and teachers. So far we’ve come up with a plan that works best for me.”

There will surely be times when Rodriguez misses what Casimiro can bring to a match. Primarily a defensive center midfielder, Casimiro has a habit of steadying things while at the same time injecting some energy, Rodriguez said.

“She’s a spark plug for us coming off the bench,” Rodriguez said. “She fits right into that utility center mid role. She wins balls and possesses for us and has an opportunistic mind. She definitely has a role. I see her picking up that mentality when it drops for us.”

With Beil and Elmore out, quite a few players are going to have to pick things up for the Huskies. According to Casimiro, the Huskies have the strongest set of forwards they have had during her time with the Huskies.

UConn was picked to finish sixth in the AAC. Rodriguez says that’s probably an accurate assessment based on last season, but Casimiro, as players do, balks at the prediction.

“That’s a huge motivational factor,” she said. “Watching us practice and watching the two games so far, we are not sixth. We’re going to come up big. We want to get to the conference finals and the NCAA Tournament. That’s the only goal we have in mind right now.”