A Storied Career


GO KNIGHTS
GO KNIGHTS

GO KNIGHTS

Oct. 29, 2012

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By Jenna Marina
UCFAthletics.com

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - If you want to know the story of Amanda Cromwell, just step into her office and take a look around.

The year she spent as the All-American midfielder who captained the Cavaliers to the 1991 NCAA Final Four are encapsulated in the University of Virginia diploma that hangs on the wall behind her desk.

The relationships she formed as "Sal" with her fellow United States National Team members is embodied in the rare framed Michelle Akers No. 10 jersey with the autographed message "I couldn't have done it without you."

The trips she has taken to Argentina and Bolivia and Chile, Costa Rica, China, Haiti, Bulgaria, Cyprus, South Africa...they are represented by vibrant soccer scarves and vuvuzelas.

The championships she has guided several Knights' squads to are celebrated quietly in trophies atop her bookshelf.

"Soccer has given me a lot," said Cromwell, who recorded her 200th victory as UCF's head coach and 220th overall win on Friday. "I'm amazed every day that I get paid to do this."

Soccer has been a part of Cromwell's life since she was old enough to tie her own shoes -- endless days of scrimmaging with her older brothers and sisters and their golden retriever Oliver in the front yard, using trees as goal posts.

She would go on to shine on the Annandale (Va.) High School team as a state champion and NSCAA All-American. Her prep career was so memorable that the school retired her jersey after she graduated.

Then came college. Ironically enough, she was recruited by UCF, and despite heavy prodding from Akers, she chose Virginia so her parents could watch her play. She still appears in the Cavaliers' record book for career goals and career points.

Following her standout career in Charlottesville, Cromwell continued to make a name for herself. She was a member of the U.S. team that took third at the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup in Sweden. She set her sights on the Olympics - a goal she dreamed about ever since high school.

"When I left high school, women's soccer wasn't even an Olympic sport yet," Cromwell said. "I just wanted to be in the Olympics. I didn't care what sport. I just wanted to do something."

As luck would have it, being the daughter of Jim Cromwell meant she wouldn't have to pursue her dream through another sport. Thanks in part to her father, who used his connections as a senior staffer for various politicians on Capitol Hill to lobby a campaign to make women's soccer an Olympic medal sport, the 1996 Games in Atlanta featured women's soccer for the first time.

But Cromwell's dream took a blow when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament while playing against Denmark in February 1996. Standard recovery time ranges from seven-to-nine months.

Cromwell refused to miss the Olympics. She rehabbed back to playing form in three months.

"The fact that I got back in three months is one of my greatest accomplishments," Cromwell said. "I can't tell you how hard I worked to try to get back and to make it possible to even be an alternate is pretty amazing. My teammates, the respect that they had for me after that, being there and running on the field in Athens (Ga.) and celebrating that gold medal was huge."

She represented the Red, White and Blue at least once every year from 1991-98. She spent two seasons as the head coach at UMBC in 1996-98 before Akers encouraged her to move to Orlando to try out for the 1999 World Cup team.

She didn't qualify for the team, but luckily for UCF, the women's soccer head coaching position was open, and Cromwell needed a job. Less than a year later, a happenstance meeting between two women eventually paired up one of the winningest tandems in UCF athletics history.

Donna Fishter was playing for the Orlando Ladyhawks in the United Soccer Leagues women's division in 1999 when she spotted a woman running sprints alongside a golden retriever on a Lake Mary field. Fishter was getting ready to practice with another keeper when Cromwell offered to help them train.

"She looked familiar to me for some reason but I couldn't place her," Fishter said. "She took a scrap of paper out of her shoe bag and wrote her name down. After she walked away, I looked down and saw `Amanda Cromwell' and her number. I immediately knew (her) because I was a huge follower of the national team. ... She called me in December and said, `Hey, would you be interested in being our goalkeeper coach?'"

Of her 14 years at UCF, Cromwell has spent all but one with Fishter at her side. She started her first year by learning players' names as she handed out equipment. Now she is building a culture among the program that bonds the players for life.

Kate Healey (formerly Begley) was a walk-on in 2003 and spent four years with the program creating a family. When she married three years ago, every single teammate was at the ceremony to witness the union. Cromwell was one of the first to visit her in the hospital when she had her first child.

"As far as lessons go, I learned how to be a good leader through Amanda and Donna," Healey said. "They have an incredible dynamic. They mold us, and leadership is a big part of the program. I think I really learned how to be a better peer, a better person - I'm a teacher and coach myself now. I learned a lot from her: How to be a good coach and a good role model for my girls."

In addition to tradition, Cromwell and Fishter's tenure has fostered consistency and growth each year as the team builds upon its successes and learns from failures.

Fishter said the evolution of the program is evident in the faces of the players when the team discusses its ultimate goal of an NCAA title.

"When I look back to 2000-2001, we were talking about Final Four then, but it was kind of that far-off light at the end of the tunnel. The players would look back at us like `Really?'" Fishter said. "Now when we talk about it, it's right there in front of us. The players know it's possible. We just have to go get it."

The players aren't the only ones who know it is possible.

Behind Cromwell's computer, to the left side of her monitor, a single sheet of white paper is taped to the wall: The 2012 NCAA Bracket, and a blank space in the center that she hopes to etch "UCF" in as champions.

"We want to get to the Final Four and we want to win the national championship," Cromwell said. "Through the years we've had some very good pieces to the puzzle. Now, you just know there's something special going on. It builds on itself. You get confidence from every year that we do great things and accomplish all these goals we set out for ourselves. I just see this program winning championships."

 

 

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