At this juncture last season, Jadyn Edwards scored one of the most important goals in University of New Mexico women’s soccer history.
The Lobos were playing San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference championship game on April 17 in Albuquerque, and everything was at stake. The winner claimed the conference title and a berth to the NCAA Tournament, something New Mexico hadn’t accomplished in a decade. The loser’s season was likely over.
The situation couldn’t have been more tense. San Diego State scored with a mere six seconds remaining in regulation, canceling out Edwards’ go-ahead goal and tying it at 2-2 to force sudden-death overtime.
That’s when the Jackson High School graduate had her magic moment.
In the 96th minute, New Mexico’s Maysa Walters sent a cross into the box from the right. San Diego State goalkeeper Alexa Madueno could only parry the ball into Edwards’ path, and Edwards tucked the rebound into the top of the net to end the game and send the Lobos to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
“As a coach that was probably the best moment of my career,” Lobos coach Heather Dyche said. “I think Jadyn would say the same.”
“The ball was bouncing in the air, it was on my left foot, and all I was thinking was, ‘Keep it down and on frame,’” Edwards recalled. “Then I blacked out for the next 30 seconds. It was amazing. It’s a great feeling to be able to celebrate with my teammates and the fans.”
Now Edwards and the Lobos are looking to recreate the magic and return to the NCAA Tournament for a second season running.
New Mexico begins play in the Mountain West Conference tournament Thursday when the top-seeded Lobos take on fourth-seeded Utah State in the semifinals at 10 a.m. (Pacific Time) in Boise, Idaho. The winner of that game faces the winner between second-seeded Fresno State and sixth-seeded Boise State at 11 a.m. Saturday for the conference title and an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
And Edwards is leading the charge from the front. Edwards, now a senior forward who was The Herald’s 2017 Girls Soccer Player of the Year, has had a spectacular season, leading New Mexico in goals (10) and assists (eight) as the Lobos finished first in the Mountain West at 7-2-2 (12-4-2 overall) during the regular season.
Though Edwards scored New Mexico’s season-defining goal last season, scoring goals was not her specialty. Edwards played as a deep-lying forward alongside finishers Gwen Maly and Alesia Garcia, meaning her role was more as a playmaker. She finished the season with three goals and three assists while starting all 13 of the Lobos’ games, earning first-team All-Mountain West honors in the process.
However, Maly and Garcia are both gone, with Maly graduating and Garcia transferring to LSU. Therefore, while Edwards is still playing as a withdrawn striker, she’s been asked to be more of a goal-scorer. She’s come through in a big way.
“I think this season she has grown dramatically,” Dyche said about Edwards. “Her ability to recognize where the spaces are and create for herself has gotten better. Also, in tight spaces you can’t take the ball off her. And what’s most special is that one-on-one you can’t stop her because she’s incredible on the ball.
“Last year she was more of a playmaker while others got the glory. This year she’s both.”
Edwards had been a goal-scorer in the past, but it was still an adjustment to return to the goal-scorer mindset.
“It’s a huge mentality change,” Edwards said. “We lost a few goal-scorers from last year and needed someone to score goals. I kind of had to change to be more selfish, take more shots and take people on more than I did last year.”
It took a few games for Edwards to find the range, but once she did she didn’t stop. She scored her first goal of the season against her hometown team as the Lobos beat Washington 2-1 in their fourth game. She followed that up with a hat trick in a 6-2 victory at Northern Arizona four days later. And she finished the regular season with three goals and three assists over the Lobos’ final four games as New Mexico took 10 points from their final possible 12 to claim the conference’s No. 1 seed.
Now Edwards and the Lobos are two wins away from a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, where they won their first tournament game in school history last season by beating Navy 2-1 in the first round via penalty kicks — Edwards converted her attempt in the 4-2 shootout win.
“We know we’re the team with the target on our back, and I think we’re excited for that and ready for the pressure,” said Edwards, a biology major with a chemistry minor who’s planning on using her extra year of COVID eligibility to return for a fifth season next year. “We’re playing very well, to be honest. I think we’re working really well in terms of chemistry and moving the ball. I think the last piece is scoring goals.”
That’s the piece Edwards provided so dramatically last season. And that’s the piece she’s upgraded, much to the Lobos’ benefit, this season.