Abby Crawford, seated center, has signed to play soccer for a Mount Olive team that is coming off its best season in school history. Others in the photo are, left to right: seated, Crawford’s grandmother Marsha Daigneault, father Billy Crawford, mother Holly Crawford, grandfather Philip Daigneault; standing, West Athletic Director Michael Turner, GPS Seashore coaches Sam Gallagher and Ben Little, brother Billy Crawford, trainer Grant Kelley, West coach Matt Graham and assistant coach Cory Noe. (J.J. Smith photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — Abby Crawford went on a college visit and unexpectedly walked away with a soccer scholarship.

The West Carteret senior toured the University of Mount Olive in October. She could hardly get off campus without signing her name on the dotted line.

“It was unexpected,” she said. “It kind of came out of nowhere, but it was super exciting. I didn’t even know what to say. I was stoked. It was exactly what I wanted, but I told them I needed to talk to my dad first. I just needed an excuse to breath.”

Crawford had decided to unofficially visit Mount Olive with her mother, but a mention of soccer to the admissions counselor soon had her talking to assistant coach Ric Laudenslager. He sent her a text as she was leaving campus to ask if she could come back to meet head coach Sharif Saber. The coaches were familiar with her from NCAA recruiting apps like NCSA and Field Level.

“I went back and spoke with him, and he said he had seen my footage, and by just talking to me, they could tell I was one of them, and he offered me a spot on the team right then and there,” she said. “It was crazy.”

It was also a welcome respite for a student-athlete who feared the recruiting process would be difficult.

Crawford transferred to West from Concord High School in New Hampshire during the summer before her junior year. All of her contacts had been made with New England college coaches. As she approached her junior campaign, she had to start from scratch.

“Leading up to it, I was just so stressed and overwhelmed,” she said. “I wondered if it was even worth it. It was so frustrating because of all the time and effort I had put into the sport: the training, the time I didn’t spend with friends, foods I was eating. I had put so much into it, and if it didn’t pay off, it would have been disappointing.”

She and her family went back to work, going to college showcases, creating online profiles, downloading NCAA recruiting apps

“I worked so hard. I just don’t want this to end,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to play soccer in college from a young age, probably going back to seventh grade.”

Her play on the field drew some attention. Crawford led West with nine goals in her first season with the squad. The Patriots went 9-8-1 overall and 6-4 in the 3A Coastal Conference to finish third. Her ability to quickly adapt at West has her coach thinking it won’t be too difficult for her to do it again.

“She worked really hard to fit into a very different play style than she was used to,” West coach Matt Graham said. “To her credit, she really did buckle down and work hard and found a spot for herself, so that gives me a lot of confidence to say she will be super successful at Mount Olive, where she will again have to learn a different system. She will have to fit herself into a different program.”

Graham lauded Crawford’s natural aggressiveness and ball-handling ability, as well as her strong athletic qualities for eventually helping her make the transition to the Division II level.

“She is aggressive to the ball, which you absolutely have to be at the college level or you will never touch it,” he said. “Getting to the ball is half the battle. I think she will do really well.”

Crawford will join a top program at Mount Olive.

The Trojans enjoyed the best season in school history last year, earning their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and first-ever Conference Carolinas regular season championship. They also earned their second-ever Conference Carolinas Tournament championship and ended up 14-1-3 overall and 9-0-2 in conference play. The squad lost just three seniors from that roster.

“At a program like that, she won’t have to carry the team as a freshman,” Graham said. “She can come in, take a year to learn, then I think she will start lighting it up.”

Oddly enough, Crawford didn’t have Mount Olive among her top schools at the beginning of the recruiting process. She listed programs like East Carolina, Barton and UNC-Pembroke.

“I kind of counted it out because it was a smaller school, and I always thought I wanted a bigger school,” she said. “But then I went to UNC-Pembroke, and it was too big of a school. Then I went to Mount Olive, and it felt perfect. It reminded me some of my elementary school, and it felt like a really safe, familiar place.”

A standout in the classroom as well with a 3.85 GPA, Crawford earned enough academic scholarships to go with her partial athletic scholarship to pay for nearly everything at Mount Olive.

After considering a degree in exercise science, she thinks she’s settled on majoring in elementary education.

“I’ve been thinking about that since I was little,” she said. “I would play school, teach my dad the silliest lessons on my little white board while he’d be snoring. I didn’t care. I would keep going. I know teachers don’t make the best money, but it’s what I really want to do.”

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