Rhode(s) to success: sophomore star hopes to level playing field for women’s soccer


Kentucky freshman forward Jordyn Rhodes challenges a defender during the UK vs Bowling Green State University women’s soccer game on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, at the Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. UK and BG tied 3-3. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Braden Ramsey

Jordyn Rhodes only began her Kentucky soccer career in 2019, but immediately made waves. She tied for the team lead in goals as a freshman and racked up countless conference achievements throughout her sophomore fall. While all the individual acknowledgements are nice, they’re not her focus. Rhodes wants to restore a winning tradition to her program.

The 2020 portion of this year’s schedule didn’t occur under circumstances anyone would consider ideal. COVID-19 limited the women’s soccer team to an eight-game all-SEC schedule. The slate was difficult for the youth-laden roster and they concluded their run with a 1-5-3 record, but Rhodes believes that mark is deceiving.

“We were all very grateful to even be able to play,” Rhodes said. “I definitely think we are increasing our abilities… [does] our record reflect that? Probably not. But we did compete in some pretty big games… put ourselves in position to win games, which was important… I think we did pretty good in the fall despite our record.”

The sophomore made the All-SEC first team after notching ten goals – four more than the conference’s second-place finisher – in only nine outings. She deflected the credit for the impressive tally though, giving praise to her fellow Wildcats. 

“I wouldn’t have had any of those goals without my teammates,” Rhodes said. “They put me in positions where I was able to score and help our team.”

Five of those goals came via penalty kick, her specialty. She not only leads the nation in goals off penalty kicks, but is one of seven players to attempt three or more without a miss. Raise that number to four, and she’s the upper end of a couplet with South Alabama’s Brenna McPartlan, who has one fewer in twice the appearances.

How has she pulled off such an astounding feat? Rhodes didn’t want to give too much away, but said these goals aren’t preplanned. 

“I don’t want to give away any of my tricks,” Rhodes remarked. “But honestly, I never really know which way I’m going… until I get up there. I kind of look at the goalie and feel ‘which way should I go today?’” 

Five of her scoring strikes came in the fall’s final two games, both against Florida. The first was a 3-1 victory at The Bell; the second, a thrilling 6-5 result in the Gators’ favor in what was each school’s first SEC Tournament match. Rhodes recorded her first collegiate hat trick in the loss and believes the team’s performance was an indication of its improvement.

“I think we’re going to take that game and hold onto it for a very long time,” she said. “That game was very important for us… just knowing we can compete against a team at the caliber of Florida the way that we did gives our team a lot of confidence.”

“It was very exciting for our program in general,” Rhodes continued. “We’re definitely getting where we want to be.”

Rhodes’ mind is set on raising the team’s bar. The Cats haven’t had a winning record since 2015. She’s intent on changing that reality by doing whatever is necessary moving forward.

“I just think that our program has gone through a lot… we deserve to have good seasons,” Rhodes told me. “My primary goal is to help us get there. If that means I have to score more goals, then I have to score more goals. If I have to get more assists, that’s fine too. I don’t really care about my accolades as long as our team is winning.” 

One of the reasons she sees her squad as worthy of more wins, in addition to the effort it has put forth, is because it has been on the verge of so many in her short tenure. The Cats have tied six times and lost by a single goal in ten instances during Rhodes’ brief time in Lexington. 

“We have come so close… we end up tying or losing a late one in overtime,” she said. “My freshman year, we lost a lot of games in overtime.”

The women’s team, like the men’s, was supposed to have a large number of opponents for the spring (“eight non-conference”, according to Rhodes). But differing COVID-19 protocols amongst the neighboring leagues have cut into that drastically; currently, Kentucky is set for only one spring meeting against SEC foe Ole Miss. The date of the game has yet to be announced, but it’s something the team is much looking forward to for a variety of reasons, including self-assessment.

“Our main goal is to continue to build up what we’ve already done,” Rhodes said. “[We] want to use it as a spring, a literal spring… It will be a good test to see where we are right now.”

That’s not the only thing though, of course.

“Obviously we want to come out with a win,” she added.

Unsurprisingly, bringing home victory is her top personal priority for the battle versus the unfamiliar Rebels. 

“My main goal for the spring is to beat Ole Miss,” Rhodes said. “Especially because we haven’t faced Ole Miss. At least I haven’t since I’ve been here. It’ll be fun to [face] a new team, in conference as well.”

With Rhodes in tow, the future for the Cats appears bright. If she can continue to grow alongside her young comrades, Kentucky may again find itself in the thick of the SEC’s best before long.