When Glenn Crooks assumed the head coach role for Rutgers’ women’s soccer team in 2000, he knew a championship team would mean a roster filled with women from New Jersey.
Rutgers competed in the Big East with women’s soccer powerhouses Notre Dame and UConn, adding a challenge to recruit the country’s top players to Rutgers. Crooks and his assistant coach, New Jersey native Michael O’Neill, had to work on their recruiting tactics to rebuild the program.
“They had built a soccer tradition and while Rutgers had had some success, no question, and some fantastic players over the years, the program was born in 1984,” Crooks said in an interview with GoodSport. “And Charlie Duccilli, who preceded me, had some success. Just the recent years, for whatever reasons before we got there, it just had lost some of its impact, even nationally.”
Previously the head coach at Long Island University, Crooks’ strong ties to the New Jersey community helped parents and prospective student-athletes trust the development of the program. He and O’Neill looked in-state, quickly finding Delran native Carli Lloyd, future two-time World Cup champion, USWNT hat-trick hero, and Rutgers Hall of Famer.
“We were able to, in many cases, keep some of the top kids here in the state at Rutgers,” Crooks said. “And New Jersey is just, is a very strong community for both the men and the women. The stable of players is deep and it’s just been a state that’s had quality players, quality coaching.”
Lloyd played for Rutgers from 2001 to 2004, and quickly made an impact as a freshman with 15 goals, seven assists, the program’s first-ever Big East Rookie of the Year honor, and helped lead the team to its second-ever NCAA tournament bid. She scored at least 10 goals each season, and was a Big East First Team honoree for all four years. She was named the Big East Midfielder of the Year during her senior season in 2004, and wrapped her career with the Scarlet Knights as the program’s all-time leader in points (117), goals (50), and shots.
“Prior to [the NCAA runs], we were developing so many talented players in New Jersey and many of them were going out of state, they weren’t really looking at Rutgers. To have gone [to Rutgers] and to have helped play a part in putting Rutgers on the map, it was more enticing for many of the homegrown players to go there. It’s obviously a great school academically too,” Lloyd said in an interview with Rutgers in 2018. “Getting to the NCAAs those two seasons was a huge deal. I think it helped for future recruitment and put a stamp in Rutgers history. It allowed a lot of those players to want to be able to go there to compete and play.”
Crooks also coached New Jerseyan Meghan Cameron at Rutgers, the assistant director of player personnel for the Kansas City Sporting Club, an MLS team. Crooks said she climbed throughout the system and was one of the few women in high level positions for MLS teams.
“That’s rewarding to me,” he said. “ I love when the kids stay involved in the game and so many of them have, and if they don’t, that’s fine too. It’s especially rewarding to see.”
Crooks’ said one of his proudest coaching moments is when he ran into his former player, Nicole Aquila, another New Jersey native, at the annual United Soccer Coaches Convention. Aquila was not always a starter on the team, but now is the owner of Project Fitness & Elite Feet Soccer Academy and has held numerous coaching positions since 1999. At the annual convention he ran into her and learned that she stuck with the sport.
“Sometimes, years later, she saw the benefits of what we were doing and despite the fact that it didn’t always go well for her now she looks back and really felt strongly about the experience,” Crooks said.
Crooks led the women’s soccer team for 14 years and compiled a 155-103-36 record with two NCAA Sweet 16 tournament appearances and led the 2006 team to the school record in wins (16), shutouts (16) and conference wins (8).