By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Splitting time training for and playing with the Mexican National Team at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in New Guinea, Crowther played a total of just 254 minutes and 11 of the Bears’ 20 games and didn’t score a single goal.
“It was really hard to see them go and see them fight – the wins, the losses – like, through it all, you want to be there,” said Crowther, a junior forward from Temecula, Calif. “It’s hard to be in and out and try to be consistent, to have a consistent presence. . . . I had a talk with Paul when I got back, and I told the girls, too, now that I’m here, I’m fully here. I plan to be here, I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. I’m going to give them my all.”
Starting the first five games for the Bears (4-0-1) this season, Crowther has already played more minutes than last year (359) and has scored three of the team’s nine goals – matching her previous career total. She scored both goals in a 2-1 overtime win over Wyoming and then netted the only goal in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Ball State.
“This is the best Jackie we’ve had,” Jobson said. “Some of Jackie’s distractions was the Mexican National Team, which we fully supported and we’ll always support that with our players if they have an international opportunity, even if it’s not a benefit to our team immediately. I do think there’s a long-term benefit that we’re seeing now. Jackie was able to go and mature as a player and mature as a person and be involved with some things that have made her a better player for us. The short-term hit for us not having her last year will turn into a long-term benefit.”
For Crowther, the chance to play for Mexico has “been an absolutely incredible experience.” Her first opportunity came four years ago, going into her junior year at Linfield Christian High School, when Crowther was picked for the U-17 that lost in the 2013 World Cup quarterfinals in Costa Rica.
Since then, she trained with the team in preparation for the 2015 U-20 World Cup Qualifiers, played for Mexico in the 2015 NTC Invitational in Carson, Calif., and then made the U-20 team again last fall when they lost to USA in the quarterfinals in New Guinea.
“The girls I met there, the amount I learned about the game, about life, about traveling, seeing all these insane places,” she said. “Just being able to say that I’ve done that, in the sport I love, has just brought me so much joy in that whole process. And just being immersed in that culture, getting to know my family more through this team, my heritage more through this team, has been really awesome.”
With blonde hair and more of a California look, Crowther’s Mexican heritage isn’t immediately recognizable. But, her mother, Myrna Rodriguez, was born in Tijuana, and her grandmother “doesn’t even speak English.”
It was a chance meeting with a recruiter at a club tournament in Arizona that opened the door for Crowther to eventually play for Mexico.
“When he met me, he was like, ‘You’re Mexican?’’’ Crowther said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess.’’’
That led to Crowther playing for a Mexicans of the Exterior team, essentially players from the U.S. with a Mexican heritage, and winning a Junior Olympics tournament in Mexico. From that experience, she got an invite to a camp and made the U-17 national team.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I had to get double citizenship, so I got that as quickly as I could. I didn’t even know I was eligible. It was just one of those things where I had no idea what was the impossible. I just figured if God was giving me this opportunity, if it’s going to work out, then I’ll go do it. I just kind of trusted it and went with it, and it’s been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.”
The way it’s started for her, this Baylor season might top everything, though.
With several attacking players either limited or injured at the start of the year, Crowther stepped up in a big way to take up the slack.
“You wondered coming into the season where you were going to generate your offense, just being limited and not really knowing,” Jobson said. “For her to step up and kind of take that on her shoulders a little bit was really impressive.
“It’s great for her, because she’s getting some confidence early. But, it’s also great for the rest of the team, because someone has taken that pressure and said, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ Now, as we get some of the other players back, they can be like, ‘OK, Jackie’s kind of leading the way, how can we support that?’ They don’t have to feel like they’ve got to carry the weight of the team on their shoulders.”
Crowther’s part of arguably one of Baylor’s most explosive attacks ever. Junior forward Lauren Piercy scored 13 goals through her first two seasons; Julie James is a returning All-Big 12 pick who had three goals and five assists last season; Raegan Padgett was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman team; and senior Aline De Lima is a talented center midfielder from Brazil who scored four goals last year.
“Baylor has always been a team with a solid defense, so it’s exciting to see us get these opportunities,” Crowther said of the Bears out-shooting their opponents, 120-23, with a 9-1 difference in goals. “Our ratios have been kind of crazy. But, at the same time, we’re getting these opportunities, they’re going to fall. The more we work at it and keep putting ourselves in the right places at the right time, I think we’re going to be successful with what we want to do up top.”
The Bears, receiving votes in this week’s United Soccer Coaches’ poll, face their toughest tests to date with games this weekend at the Nike Portland Invitational in Portland, Ore. Baylor plays the host Portland team (2-4-0) at 9 p.m. CDT Friday, then Washington (4-2-0) at 2 p.m. CDT Sunday. The Huskies handed then-No. 2 Florida its only loss of the year, 1-0, last Friday at the Husky Invitational in Seattle.
“In the past, we seemed to catch them on a down year where we beat them early in the year and you feel like it’s going to be a quality win, and they’ve kind of struggled,” Jobson said of Washington. “This is probably the Washington team we’ve always expected to see. They’re a veteran-laden team.”
Crowther, a pre-med psychology major, said it’s “been really exciting to finally be here 100 percent through the highs, through the lows, and just being able to fight with my team day-in and day-out.”
“I really think there’s something special about this team this year.”