Cabarrus

Junior follows in the steps of talented forwards

The Jay M. Robinson girls' soccer team has a great tradition of forwards who have not only led their teams in scoring but have also been leaders for the Bulldogs.

After Kristen Hale, Bailey Varley and Becky Darnell played that role, Robinson junior forward Isabel Bernal can be added to that list.

"It seems like every year we have a great forward who is also a great leader and inspiration for our team," said Robinson soccer coach Todd Spinnell. "Bernal is another great player in that line of players."

Bernal, known as "Izzy" to most of her friends and family, never expected to be a star of any soccer team after spending most of her time growing up as a standout basketball player.

"Basketball is my favorite sport, I was born to play basketball and it is pretty much my life," said Bernal, who averaged 12 points, five rebounds and three assists on the 20-8 Bulldogs' basketball team. "But I also love soccer, too. I would love to play college soccer one day."

While Bernal will likely be recruited in both sports, she is just starting to come into her own on the soccer field.

After netting 25 goals and dishing out 12 assists in her freshman and sophomore years combined, Bernal has started the year strong with 13 goals and six assists (through her first 14 games). The Robinson team is on pace to break the school record for wins in a season (which is 14 victories in both 2005 and 2010), with an 11-3 mark, including a 9-0 record in South Piedmont Conference Play (as of April 15).

"We've had a lot of great players here (at Robinson) in the past," Bernal said, who is now 5th all-time at Robinson with 94 points (38 goals, 18 assists career). "But, I think this might be the best team. We all play together, there is no separation or divide with this team."

Bernal is a major reason why the girls' soccer team is No. 1 in the SPC and ranked eighth in the state.

Her leadership extends from her ability to get her team "pumped up," as Bernal says, before the games, by her example on the field as she regularly runs through and over players with her determination to win loose balls.

"I go for that ball 100 percent, all of the time," said Bernal. "That's just the way I play, I don't even think about it. I'm not backing down from anyone."

Spinnell says the way Bernal plays is contagious to her teammates, which helps them play with higher intensity on the field.

While Bernal is a big part of the team, she is hardly a one-woman show as her style of play has opened things up for sophomore forward Cassie Nelson, who also starts the year with 13 goals, while all-state defender Rachel Eklund leads the defense.

On offense, Bernal and Nelson have teamed up nicely to replace Darnell, the first all-state Robinson player.

"Becky and I worked really well together last year," said Bernal. "Cassie and I are doing the same thing this year. We really feed off each other well on the field."

Bernal and Spinnell hope this combination will fuel the Bulldogs' deepest run in the 3A playoffs. Robinson's best run in its history came last year when they advanced to the third round of the 3A playoffs.

Robinson is playing its best soccer, having outscored its opponents 56-6 this year (through April 14), including 45-3 in SPC play.

"We've been very strong this year, but from now on every game for us is a playoff game," said Spinnell.

Bernal plays like every game is her last, according to Spinnell. Bernal only knows one speed.

"She is a street-baller the way she plays through, over and around people," he said. "We know eventually in every game she is going to make something happen for us."

Bernal's ability on the soccer field is pretty good, considering she is "really a basketball player."

"I've never imagined I'd be the top dog on the soccer field," she said. "But I am happy that people look up to me."

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