Kiara Rodriguez of Sayreville, the all-time leading scorer for the Woodbridge Academy, will play basketball for Wesleyan, an NCAA Division II college of 1,400 students in Buckhannon, W.Va.
“We’re very proud of her,” said Michael Fanelli, principal of the academy, which is part of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District. “She’s a very good student and a fantastic athlete.”
Neither MCVTS athletic director Michael Pede nor Rocco Funari, Kiara’s former coach and a teacher at the academy, could remember an athletic scholarship going to a previous MCVTS student. Funari, who coached her for three years, called Kiara “gifted.”
“She has a lot of natural ability,” he said. “She scores, she rebounds, she blocks shots. She knows the game and she anticipates well.”
Kiara’s mother, Gwen Jackson-Rodriguez, saw that potential and put a basketball in her daughter’s hands, even coaching her third-grade team.
“It’s been a long journey,” she said. “She worked hard, and it’s been well worth it.”
Kiara’s family has been a cheering section at her games, but next season they will have a seven-hour drive to see her play.
Kiara first came to the attention of West Virginia Wesleyan coaches while playing for her AAU team during the summer. When they found out about her grades, they were sold, Fanelli said.
The 5-foot-10 Kiara scored a school record 1,394 points in her high school career, using basketball to relieve the pressure of the academy’s rigorous curriculum – and vice versa.
“A lot of time, you’re so focused on the work here, you can forget you have other things,” Kiara said.
“When basketball stresses me out, I just complete my homework,” she said. “When school stresses me out, I play ball.”
She plans to major in biology/pre-med in hopes of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.