Scoring the golden goal in overtime to give one’s school a conference championship and send it to the NCAA tournament? It’s that once-in-a-lifetime experience every college soccer player dreams about.
Jadyn Edwards got to live it twice. In the span of just seven months.
The Jackson High School graduate and star forward on the University of New Mexico women’s soccer team fired the Lobos to the NCAA tournament in the most dramatic fashion possible for the second straight season. Her accomplishments made Edwards The Herald’s 2021-22 Woman of the Year in Sports.
Edwards, who graduated from Jackson in 2018, had a tremendous 2021-22 season. The fourth-year player led New Mexico in both goals (11) and assists (nine) to lead the Lobos to the Mountain West Conference championship, and she was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
”That award was a huge honor, given all the great talent in the Mountain West,” Edwards said. “But I couldn’t have done it without my coaches and teammates and all the support from my friends and family.
“It was a great season both individually and as a team.” Edwards added. “I think being picked to be the No. 1 team put a target on our back all season long, and although we went through some struggles we really shined through the adversity and were able to get through some tough games. For me it was a season of growth, both in scoring more goals and in terms of leading by example.”
But what put a cherry on top was her repeat magical moment.
Last November New Mexico and Boise State were tied 1-1 in the conference tournament’s championship game when regulation concluded. That sent the game to sudden-death overtime, with the winner earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and the loser’s season likely ending.
Edwards didn’t waste any time making sure it was the Lobos who advanced. A mere 35 seconds into overtime she collected the ball in midfield off a throw-in, drove toward goal, then took a shot from the top of the penalty box that took a slight deflection off a defender and soared into the top corner.
What made it extra amazing was that the exact same thing happened seven months earlier. That time New Mexico was tied 2-2 with San Diego State at the end of the conference championship game, which took place in April because the season was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. Again it was Edwards who ended it, tucking home a rebound in the sixth minute of OT to send the Lobos to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years.
Edwards admitted she never thought she’d have another moment like that. Even New Mexico coach Heather Dyche described it as “the best moment of my career.” Who knew Edwards would equal the feat within the same calendar year?
”Both times were surreal,” Edwards recalled. “You score a goal and the game is over and everyone is running to you, it’s really amazing, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it’s happened two times. Obviously it feels great. Unfortunately, there are no more golden goals, they changed the rules (to play out the full overtime instead of sudden death), so that glory moment can’t happen again.”
But excelling on the field is nothing new for Edwards. Since the time her parents signed her up for YMCA rec soccer when she was 5, Edwards was a standout. Even in other sports she was a star — including when playing flag football against boys.
“That was a blast,” Edwards’ father Tony said. “She’d run one way, and if it wasn’t there she’d take off the other way. Boys who were good ball players were trying to chase her down and couldn’t get her. It was a lot of fun watching her play with the boys.”
Edwards eventually settled on soccer as her sport of choice. Playing at a time when development academies and top clubs were either discouraging or prohibiting their players from playing for their high school teams, Edwards instead stuck with her Northwest Nationals/Greater Seattle Surf club that allowed her to play for Jackson. With the Timberwolves she reached the Class 4A state championship game as a freshman, then was named The Herald’s Girls Soccer Player of the Year in 2017 as a senior.
Edwards’ accomplishments as a youth athlete foreshadowed her future exploits in big moments.
”It was kind of surprising (seeing Edwards send the Lobos to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons), but in a way it wasn’t,” Tony Edwards said. “She’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever seen. When kids are young and talented, a lot of the time they don’t work hard because they already dominate because of their natural ability. For her, it could be the coaching she had that pushed her, but she always put in the hours to get better. It’s why she’s continued to get better, both on and off the field, and it’s why she’s been able to shine in pressure situations.”
Edwards is now back for a fifth year with New Mexico, courtesy of the extra year of eligibility granted to athletes because of the pandemic. She was one of 60 players named to the Hermann Trophy watch list as college soccer’s top player, the first Lobo ever to be selected for the watch list. She’s already off to a flying start, scoring a hat trick in the Lobos’ second game of the season, a 4-2 victory over Cal State Bakersfield last Sunday that included a screamer from 30 yards out. Through three games she’s already amassed four goals and two assists, and the target is to make it back to the NCAAs and advance farther in the tournament — the Lobos made it to the second round in 2020-21 and were eliminated in the first round last season.
Given her track record in big moments, if anyone is going to fire the Lobos deep into the NCAA tournament it’s Edwards.