FEATURE: A Unique Journey to Nittany Lion Women's Soccer

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By Jon Blauvelt, Special to GoPSUsports.com from the College of Communications
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Raquel Rodriguez Cedeno is grateful to be where she is today.

Rodriguez endured a long and arduous journey on the way to becoming a Nittany Lion, one that Penn State Women's Soccer Head Coach Erica Walsh calls an incredible story.

8250453.jpegRodriguez came to Happy Valley from San Jose, Costa Rica where she is one of the country's elite young players.

Her experiences with Penn State began in 2008 when she met Walsh at an Olympic Development Program Inter-Regional tournament in Boca Raton, Florida. At that time, Rodriguez was playing for a U-17 Costa Rican National Team at the age of 14. Yet, in the eyes of Walsh, Rodriguez sure didn't look like she was 14.

"There was a player in the middle of the field that was just playing better than anyone else there," said Walsh in recalling the first time she watched Rodriguez play.

That was all Walsh needed to see. Moving forward, she made it her mission to land Rodriguez at Penn State.

"I invested roughly 15,000 hours in this one recruit," said Walsh.

In 2009, Rodriguez played in The Orange Classic tournament in Miami, Fla., and Walsh flew down to watch her play and to meet her dad. In 2010, they began discussing her potential commitment to Penn State.

According to Walsh, Rodriguez became more and more comfortable with her over time.

"She put her faith in me to help her," said Walsh.

That's exactly what Rodriguez did in January of 2011 when she committed to Penn State.

"I guess I took a big step of faith," said Rodriguez about her commitment. "It was a decision of trust and faith."

Rodriguez cited the university's excellent combination of academics and athletics as the main reason for her decision to choose Penn State.

Yet, because of financial restrictions, Rodriguez was unable to visit the university during this recruiting process. Walsh instead created videos of Penn State's campus and sent them to Rodriguez during her senior year. She referred Rodriguez to resources like GoPSUSports.com and Penn State faculty members to answer her many questions regarding the soccer program and the academic opportunities. Rodriguez and her family also communicated with Walsh, her staff and the Penn State team via Skype to gain a more complete understanding of the program.

During Rodriguez's senior year in 2011-2012, she faced additional hurdles in getting to Penn State. Rodriguez experienced difficulty with the Amateurism Clearinghouse of the NCAA. Because her Costa Rican academic records stemmed from a different culture with a different language, the NCAA couldn't process her paperwork efficiently.

Months and months rolled by and the NCAA had still not cleared Rodriguez. Walsh began to think the worst.

"We could not believe that her one chance to go to college was almost gone," she said.

Luckily for Rodriguez, she didn't lose that chance.

Walsh recalled a day this past July when she went to Bald Eagle State Park with assistant coach Ann Cook. Away from work, they decided to take a boat out on the water and relax on their days off. Walsh said it was about 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon when she got a cell phone call. It was the NCAA: Rodriguez had been cleared and would officially be enrolled as a Penn State student-athlete the following month.

Walsh said she and Cook immediately jumped from the boat into the water in pure elation.

"It was the most unbelievable day of 2012," she said. "It would have been the biggest tragedy of NCAA history if it wouldn't have happened."

Now a Kinesiology major at Penn State, Rodriguez is getting the education that she always wanted and with three goals and seven assists in 16 games, she is playing an integral role on a team that is ranked fourth in the country.

"I am so happy to be here," said Rodriguez. "I'm proud to be a part of the Penn State family."

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