Having been at Georgia four seasons now, soccer coach Steve Holeman doesn’t weird out nearly as much as he once did about playing Ole Miss, where he coached for 15 years. As for his dynamic young star from the Magnolia State, Sunday’s game against the Rebels will definitely feel strange.
Georgia freshman Marion Crowder hails from Madison, Miss. And though she’s only 18 years old, she has a long history with both Holeman and Ole Miss. Crowder’s cousin, Kristin Chapman, played for Holeman and the Rebels a decade ago.
“I know a good many of the players from Ole Miss,” said Crowder, who is the reigning “Miss Soccer” in the state of Mississippi. “It’s funny because I played with a lot of them my entire life. They’re all like, ‘It’s so weird to play against each other.’ And it is. But at the same time there’s just a level of excitement.”
Crowder has proved to be a catalyst for the upstart Bulldogs (9-2-1, 2-1 SEC). Before Friday’s game against Alabama, the diminutive forward led the Bulldogs with eight goals and an assist. And she has been on a bit of a scoring tear.
Crowder didn’t notch her first goal until Game 5 against Jacksonville. But after that she scored seven goals over a four-game stretch, including four in one game against the College of Charleston on Sept. 15. That’s a UGA freshman record.
Crowder’s streak of games with a goal ended at four when she failed to get on the board against Kentucky on Sunday. None of the other Bulldogs did either, and the 1-0 loss snapped a nine-game winning streak.
“As fast as I’ve gotten started has been kind of surprising,” said Crowder, who played all over the world as part of the U18 national team. “That College of Charleston game, I didn’t know what to do half the time. But the coaches have done a really good job of getting me adjusted to the collegiate level of play and the different aspects of it.”
Holeman has seen this act before. He said the similarities between Crowder and her cousin are uncanny.
“She was about (5-foot-1), too, explosive, fast, dangerous, feisty,” Holeman said of Chapman, who was also a youth national player. “Marion’s just like her. But you never know how they’re going to transition to the college game. Marion’s obviously done a fantastic job so far.”
Holeman won four SEC West titles and made four NCAA tournament appearances at Ole Miss before coming to Georgia in 2010. He already has 40 wins and an NCAA berth to his credit. But the feeling is that Crowder may be the spark UGA needs to make the next step.
“All it took for me to know she was something special was seeing Marion take off down the line that first time,” senior midfielder Laura Eddy said. “She has brilliant speed, but is just as quick with the ball at the feet, which makes her so dangerous.”
Crowder was one of 16 newcomers Holeman added to a group of 15 lettermen and six returning starters. The hope is Georgia will now be able to compete for the SEC championship. That starts with winning homestands such as this weekend’s against Alabama and the 25th-ranked Rebels.
“I always wanted to go out of state and obviously I wanted to be here with this group of girls,” Crowder said. “So I think it’s just an extra special moment to prove that I made the right decision.”