CARY, N.C. -- The last time Virginia made it to the semifinals of the College Cup, Amanda Cromwell was a Cavaliers captain and star center midifielder.
That was back in 1991, and in her four years in Charlottesville, she became a soccer legend. Twice, she was an All American; four times an All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection; and she was named a finalist for the 1991 Hermann Trophy, the sport’s highest individual honor.
Going up against against her beloved alma mater was always a possibility. Yet somehow, it just never worked out that way in a couple of years at the helm of UMBC and then 14 at Central Florida.
That’s all changed in her very first year with UCLA. The Bruins will not only play Virginia, but in the semifinals of the College Cup. It’s not just some throwaway scrimmage, some warm-up match with something more important somewhere down the line. This is to earn the right to play Sunday afternoon for all the marbles.
As much as she might want to play it off somewhere deep inside as a contest against just another school, it’s not. It’s Virginia.
“During the season, when they were making their undefeated run and went through the whole ACC season undefeated, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a game I’d really like to play,’” Cromwell began. “I knew their style of play was very good, and obviously, they’re a talented team with successful players.
“Whether we play in the semifinals or finals, it doesn’t really matter. You still have to win this game to be a national champion. I think it was bound to happen at some point, so it’s just exciting it’s in the final four.”
A native of Annandale, Va., just to the west of Washington, Cromwell exchanged e-mails with Virginia head coach Steve Swanson all through the year. They were just checking in, talking about how their seasons were going and so forth. Asked about Cromwell, Swanson grinned and said that he had a UVa scarf to give his friend.
“Our family’s pretty tight, and Amanda’s a big part of our family,” Swanson said. “She’s one that we would say has really paved the road for others. She’s a great model for our players. She’s been involved in our program ever since she left. … I’m proud of her. I think our whole university’s proud of Amanda Cromwell.”
It wasn’t until April that Cromwell was hired as just the fifth women’s soccer head coach in school history. She was immediately impressed by UCLA’s rich traditions in so many different sports – it’s where John Wooden became something far beyond iconic. There’s a hall of fame featuring who knows how many national championship trophies, and if it that was intimidating, it didn’t show.
The camaraderie of the athletics department was something to see, she added, but what concerned her was how quickly she could put all the pieces of a successful program in place.
“One of my biggest doubts, I think maybe was how fast we could get this team to come together with a new staff and really buy into what we’re doing,” she said. “Just the feeling among the team has been awesome this fall.”
Long road trips to tournaments at Notre Dame and Duke were important milestones for the squad, if for no other reason than it afforded her to get to know the troops and for them to get to know her.
“We were on the road for 10 days together,” she said. “We got to spend some time away from the field, and that definitely helped.”
Taylor Smith gave UCLA a stunning 1-0, double-overtime victory against North Carolina on Nov. 30 in Chapel Hill. That advanced the Bruins to the College Cup for the ninth time, over a team that had eliminated it from the tournament in each of the past four years.
And rather than heading back home to Los Angeles, Cromwell kept the team in North Carolina and used the Tar Heels’ training facility to prepare for the semifinals. The team had already made its way here when Thanksgiving rolled around, giving it yet another bonding opportunity.
“Thanksgiving together … being together with the team, not being with our families and friends … we’ve created a family here,” said senior midfielder Jenna Richmond, who like Cromwell is from Virginia.
“This seemed to be like an instant family for me,” Cromwell said.
She should know what it takes to form a bond like that. Cromwell had one at Virginia just like it.