After finishing out her undergrad career in North Carolina, Jackie Richards looked closer to home to pursue a master’s degree and play out her college eligibility.
She ended up reconnecting with a former coach at Villanova. Nine games into her time as a Wildcat, the former Reading Rage and ODP player has fit like a glove in her new home.
Richards is second on the team in goals with 4, third on the team in minutes with 672 and her presence in the attack has helped strengthen a Wildcats team that is unbeaten through nine games.
“It’s been a really nice transition, I think,” Richards said in a recent interview. “A lot of it as a grad student has been showing up, doing your job and putting in that extra effort trying to lead from past experiences.”
Richards, an Exeter High School grad from Reading, spent her last two seasons at Campbell after playing at Xavier. She played at Campbell for a season under Villanova head coach Samar Azem, who left the North Carolina school for Villanova after the 2021 season.
“She knows how to get it done while creating a very positive culture, empowering all of us as individuals and as a team,” Richards said of Coach Azem. “She’s been a great influence on me as a player.”
Influential coaching has been a theme through Jackie’s time playing the game. She credits Reading Rage coach Eric Puls as a big reason she’s had a successful career at the college level and notes the impact of the coaching she received during her time with the Eastern Pennsylvania Olympic Development Program.
“Having Eric (Puls) as a coach, and just that environment of the club and the environment, the ‘we’re all here to get better, and challenge each other’ approach was so important to my development,” Richards said. “It was a super cool place to be and I really appreciated how caring everyone was and devoted to it.”
ODP was a chance for Richards to play in a different spot on the field and face different challenges.
“The entire time I was in ODP I played either as an outside back or a center back; I never played on the front line,” she said. “It was a good step for me in a different direction and another challenge. I got to meet new people and experience a different world. It’s definitely been beneficial in the long run.”
From her Villanova debut on, Richards has shown her ability to not only score a banger from distance but to dominate on both sides of the ball in the midfield, connecting with teammates and pressuring the back line. The Wildcats have outscored opponents 15-5 through their first nine.
“The team’s done an amazing job of bringing her in and allowing her to be herself on the field and try to figure out how she plays and she’s done a great job figuring out how this team plays,” Azem said after the season-opening win. “Jackie’s such a dangerous player and she showed that today.”
Playing closer to home has been an added bonus to being at Villanova for Richards. She’s had family and friends in the stands at a lively Higgins Soccer Complex.
Being back in the Big East also means facing her former team, which she’ll get to do Thursday when Villanova travels to Cincinnati to take on Xavier, currently ranked No. 24 in the nation.
The Wildcats are now unbeaten in their last 12 and will want to keep rolling in the Big East as they seek what would be the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009.
“All of us, players and coaches, have the right intentions and really want to see results,” Richards said. “We’re a hungry group and I’m excited to see what’s next for us.”
After two road games in Big East play at Xavier and St. John's, Villanova returns home to face Butler at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5.