October 3, 2022
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Rodriguez reflects on successful high school career shaped by Panthers softball | Local

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The final walk off the field was an emotional one for Marissa Rodriguez.

The Coconino High School graduating senior played softball for over 10 years before finally saying goodbye to her varsity career following the spring season.

Nicknamed “Benny,” Rodriguez played on the varsity squad since her sophomore year. She cherished every second she was on the field.

“Going on that field and being able to let everything out really made me happy,” Rodriguez said.

Softball was a chance to escape the everyday pressures of life. Between classes and applying for college, Rodriguez had a lot on her plate during her senior year. She quickly learned, however, that softball was a way to de-stress and push her efforts toward a sport she loved.

“There’s drama, there’s schoolwork, there’s tests, there’s so many things that are pressured on you,” Rodriguez said. “But when you’re on that field, it’s all taken away from you and you’re just happy again.”

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Rodriguez played third base during her first two years of varsity softball but switched to playing outfield during her senior season. Rodriguez’s specialty, however, was at the plate.

With a .373 batting average across 28 games played, Rodriguez was a crucial part of a Panthers ballclub that averaged nearly 10 runs per game during the 2022 season. Rodriguez, a self-proclaimed “power-hitter,” finished with 16 RBIs on the season and led the team in batting average against regional opponents.

She was also a leader who prioritized camaraderie and working toward a common goal.

“Teammate” is the word that manager Kimberly Dennis said is fitting for a player like Rodriguez. One of the Panthers’ major focuses was how teammates treat each other, Dennis said, and Rodriguez stood out as a team player from the beginning.

At the team’s end-of-the-year banquet, each player voted on who they thought should receive the “Panther Award.” Given to a teammate who was considered the “cornerstone” of the team, the award was to recognize a player who showed leadership on and off the field. Fittingly, Rodriguez took home the honor.

That attitude was part of the reason she was dubbed “Benny.” Rodriguez earned it during her sophomore year after there were two players named “Marissa” on the team. Dennis matched the last name “Rodriguez” with that of Benny Rodriguez from the movie “The Sandlot.”

The name “Benny” fit Marissa well because it’s a special name and “she’s definitely a special girl,” Dennis said. “She loves her teammates, she loves us coaches, and she puts others first.”

“She’s always playing for Coconino; she’s never out for herself,” Dennis said. “She’s always making sure her teammates are feeling okay. She truly cares about people.”

Dennis said Rodriguez would often ask teammates how they were feeling after practices to make sure they were doing well on and off the field.

“She’s good at reaching out to people and being a good listener — which is where she shows her leadership,” Dennis said.

Rodriguez always cheered for her teammates because she knows the challenges that a team can face.

“No matter how successful your team is, you’re going to have bumpy roads,” Rodriguez said. “But it just depends on how you react to it and how you come back at it.”

Being a senior, Rodriguez felt that it was her responsibility to help coach and support her teammates, especially the underclassmen.

“I feel like being a leader, I helped my team get back into that grind mode when we weren’t having a good practice,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez wanted to make sure the Panthers were performing at their best so that they could be successful when it really mattered.

Coconino finished the regular season with a 17-5 record to clinch the No. 5 seed in the 4A Conference state tournament, including an undefeated record at home.

The future is bright for someone like Rodriguez, Dennis said.

Confidence is something Rodriguez has held onto in her high school career.

“It makes me feel confident that I have a coach who’s confident in me,” Rodriguez said. “When I got up to the batting box she was already chanting, ‘Go Benny,’ and I feel like that is a core memory.”

Rodriguez plans to attend Coconino Community College for two years and then transfer to GateWay Community College to fulfill her dreams of becoming an ultrasound technician. Rodriguez said frequent trips to the gym and working on herself will be some of her main focuses.

Rodriguez isn’t waving goodbye to softball forever, though. She hopes to one day become a softball coach and follow in the footsteps of people like Dennis.

“I’ve always wanted to be a coach, because I just want to push people around me to do better and go far to follow their dreams,” she said.

Dennis left one final piece of advice for Rodriguez as she turns to the next chapter in her life.

“I always tell her to believe in herself as much as we believe in her. We coaches see so much talent in her on and off the field, and I know she’s going to be a great asset to her community wherever she ends up,” Dennis said.

Rodriguez praises the efforts of her coaches, teammates, friends and family for helping shape her character. Her love for the Coconino softball team is larger than life.

“I’m going to say it with all pride: The Coconino softball program has helped make me who I am today.”



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