By KEITH SPARKS
The Lady Panther softball team will be adding a familiar face to the coaching staff for the upcoming season, as former Liberty Hill Junior High coach Amanda Rodriguez makes the jump to the high school as an Assistant Softball Coach, Assistant Girls’ Basketball Coach, and chemistry teacher.
Rodriguez is no stranger to the current Lady Panther athletes or coaches, as she was able to spend time with both the girls’ basketball and softball teams last year while she coached at the Junior High. She also spent time with a number of the softball players as a personal trainer, working with some of the underclassmen on their softball skills during the offseason.
“I actually took my team to a girls’ basketball practice at the high school last year,” Rodriguez said. “Coach Lange was like, ‘Amanda, any time you want to bring your girls over here, bus them over.’ We see all those people on the junior high campus: Lange, Brewer, all of them.
“A lot of the softball players, I’ve actually coached. Abby Covington, I’ve given some lessons to, and I worked with her mom at the junior high. (Carissa) Garza’s mom and I worked together while I taught at Leander. I’ve known the Kuhlmanns for a really long time. A lot of girls on the softball and basketball teams, I’ve actually known their families for a while.”
Rodriguez played softball for four different colleges during her playing career, including University of Texas at Tyler, Carl Albert State College, Cameron University, and Odessa College.
Once her playing career was over, Rodriguez earned a Bachelor’s degree in education from Texas State University, after which she spent time as an assistant softball coach at Texarkana College, an assistant softball coach at Hyde Park High School, a head softball coach at Salado High School, and a middle school teacher for Leander ISD before moving on to Liberty Hill Junior High.
Her time at Salado High School allowed her to learn a bit about Lady Panther softball, as she and former Liberty Hill Head Coach Charice Hankins would often battle during district play.
“When I was coaching at Salado, I was able to get a little taste of what Liberty Hill softball was all about,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve known about Liberty Hill all my life. We played against them when I was in high school at Elgin; we’re both softball towns. I’ve known about them and what they stood for and what they produced every year.”
In fact, Rodriguez was once knocked out cold by a line drive from a Lady Panther junior varsity player while she was coaching at Salado, which became a sort of running joke between her and Hankins when Rodriguez arrived at Liberty Hill Junior High last year.
According to Rodriguez, her relationship with Hankins was a big reason why she landed her new job.
“Coach Hankins had respect for me from that point on,” Rodriguez said of her time at Salado High School. “She loved how I coached and she loved my energy. She was the one that requested that they pull me up from the junior high.”
In addition to her history with Hankins, Rodriguez also had the opportunity to work with Liberty Hill’s new Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Jeff Walker while he was the Girls’ Athletic Coordinator at the Junior High.
Rodriguez will be entering the Panther coaching ranks at the same time that former assistant Kristen Brewer takes over as a first-year Head Coach. Brewer, who was an assistant for Coach Hankins for 10 years, should have no problem adjusting, according to Rodriguez.
“I don’t think it’s going to be new for her,” Rodriguez said. “That was the one thing that attracted me. She’s been there for so long. She knows everything that’s expected and everything it takes. I’d feel completely at ease if Hankins was there or Brewer was there. It feels like they’re almost interchangeable at this point, because she’s been with her for so long. I have nothing but excitement for her.”
As the vast majority of both girls’ varsity rosters are set to return for their upcoming seasons, expectations have never been higher for the Lady Panthers. So high, in fact, that Walker explained to Rodriguez, “You can go win State in both sports you’re going to coach.”