BOULDER, Colo. — Home, sweet home--even if only for a weekend.
"I knew eventually that we were going to play Colorado and being my senior year, it's super special," Jaelin Howell said.
The Florida State senior returned to her home state to deliver a 2-1 victory to the Colorado Buffaloes on August 29. It was part of a promise Head Coach Mark Krikorian made to her when she was recruited to the Seminoles--she'd get to play a game in front of all of her friends and family.
"Colorado has a super special place in my heart and so when I initially saw the mountains, I got super excited."
That super special place is home to four US Women's National Team Players.
"You have Mal Pugh, Lindsey Horan..." she started to rattle off.
But no bond was as special as the one Howell shared with Sophia Smith. The two grew up in the same neighborhood, graduated in 2018 from Fossil Ridge High School, and started an inseparable journey.
"Outside looking in, it is a crazy story, just the path that we both took together. We grew up playing on the National Teams, U-17 World Cup, U-20, and now the Women's team," Howell said. "It's just been a great experience having familiarity wherever you are."
Jaelin's parents, Laura and John, watched as the two grew closer together and their competitive spirits pushed them further along in their careers.
"Competing against each other, cheering for each other, they grew up in the same neighborhood, they could walk to each other's houses. They've been on the same little Twisters team since they were 6-7 years old, and a lot of the same club teams ever since," John said.
Howell and Smith's destinies became more intertwined in 2020, when they were called up to the Women's National Team level to train with the squad.
"It was definitely special, but honestly, we weren't too surprised! It seems like if one goes somewhere, then the other follows right after," Howell said.
Then came the moment they would share forever. Smith and Howell earned their first National Team caps in November 2020 against the Netherlands in the same game. But it's also a moment Howell keeps for herself.
"I've waited my whole life for that moment," she said. "Everything I put into my craft was for that moment. I'm not done, I want to be a mainstay on that team and be one of the best holding [midfielders] in the world, but that moment was very special for me because of all of the work that it took to be there."
Blood, sweat, and a lot of tears--according to John. The late-night phone calls when she felt like training was too tough or she wasn't enough. Those true parenting moments were all worth it when they saw the payoff.
"You know, so many years of hard work and complete dedication go into something like that," Laura said. "Honestly, it choked me up when we saw her getting warmed up and getting ready to go in."
The warmup was the most emotional part for Howell, who stopped to take in the entire moment.
"The nerves going on before getting on the field, even though it was for like three minutes in that game," she said. "I look to my right and I see Julie Ertz and I look to my left and I see Becky Sauerbrunn, so these are players that I watched growing up and I truly admire them as players and as people and so it was an unreal experience and I'm so blessed to have it."
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