Jackie Crowther has been around the world playing for Mexico’s Under-20 national team, exploring places like Mexico City, New Zealand and New Guinea.

All those experiences have made her a better soccer player, and Baylor is reaping the benefits.

Now a junior for the Bears, Crowther has scored a team-leading three goals heading into Big 12 play against No. 5 West Virginia at 7 p.m. Friday at Betty Lou Mays Field.

The Mountaineers (7-2) are coming off an appearance in last year’s NCAA championship game, where they lost to USC. This will be the premier game on Baylor’s schedule, and the Lady Bears are looking forward to the challenge after going 6-1-1 in nonconference play.

“I’m really excited to see what we can do,” Crowther said. “I think we’ve proven time and time again this team is something different with the way we fight for each other and come together. We’ve definitely been putting the work in, and now that it’s conference this is the real deal.”

Crowther has given the Bears a much needed scoring punch, and has the strength and savvy to match up with anybody she faces.

“With the way she’s playing she’s been lights out,” said Baylor coach Paul Jobson. “She’s a really smart player and understands the game and has a great instinct. The change from before to now is she’s starting to trust her instinct more. She’s starting to realize that she has a real good knowledge of the game. She’s let go of some fears and anxieties and has played like a veteran.”

Much of Crowther’s instinctive play has been honed by her experiences with the Mexico national teams.

Though Crowther grew up in Southern California, she became eligible to play for Mexico because her mother is a native of Tijuana. She started playing for the Mexico Under-17 national team before her junior year at Linfield Christian School in Temecula, Calif.

Prior to her freshman year at Baylor in 2015, she trained with the Mexico Under-20 team for the first time and returned to the squad in 2016. It was quite a whirlwind for Crowther last year as she traveled the globe and eventually played in the World Cup in Papua, New Guinea.

“I obviously missed being at Baylor, but it was so rewarding to represent my family, my heritage and Mexico, and doing something impactful in the world of what I love to do in soccer,” Crowther said. “It was such an incredible experience hanging out with the girls and getting to know them more, and traveling and seeing all these beautiful places.”

Crowther knew how to communicate with her teammates because she took Spanish throughout high school and often talked to her grandparents in their native language on the phone.

“I don’t speak it around our house, but my grandmother doesn’t speak any English so when I call her up we speak in Spanish,” Crowther said. “Being with the team helped me the most. We weren’t allowed to speak English at dinners and stuff like that. Being able to be completely submerged in the culture changed the whole way I understood the language and spoke the language. I’m pretty fluent now.”

After training in Mexico City, the national team traveled to New Zealand to play against that country’s national team. Crowther had a high school friend, Tayla Forward, who played for New Zealand, and they enjoyed catching up with each other.

“I had a New Zealand foreign exchange student live with us back in high school, so I got to see her in her home country,” Crowther said. “She was a soccer player who came down to the United States to play. I broke my foot, so we never got to play together in high school.”

Though the Mexico squad lost to the United States in the World Cup quarterfinals, Crowther gained a lot from the experience of playing against top level competition and from visiting a country that welcomed the soccer players.

“The New Guinea people were so nice and welcoming, and it was completely different from anything I’ve ever seen,” Crowther said. “It was an incredible new experience for me. We ended up losing to the United States, and it was a totally heartbreaking overtime game. But that was ground breaking for us to even get that far. I think it was awesome to see us have an impact on the women’s game.”

Due to her commitment to the national team, Crowther played in just 11 games as a sophomore for Baylor last year after playing in all 19 games as a freshman. After collecting three goals and an assist as a freshman, she didn’t score a goal last year but had three assists.

But Jobson believes the experiences of playing for the national team have helped Crowther develop into a more productive, highly skilled player this year.

“That’s one of the great things about her being with Mexico is she gained a ton of experience with some different coaches and against some different teams,” Jobson said. “That experience is fantastic and she brought that back with her.”

Crowther hopes to help Baylor to a high Big 12 finish and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. She’s also one of the top students on the Baylor squad with a pre-med major, and wants to study the impact of concussions someday.

“I’m pre-med but I’m also a psychology major, so I love the brain,” Crowther said. “I love the way people think. I really want to study brain disorders some day. Because I’m a soccer player, I’m really interested in concussion research and stroke research. Anything along those lines I think is so fascinating. Hopefully that’s where I end up.”

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