Heroines. Jamaica’s national team participated in its first FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer in France and inspired millions. They were the first Caribbean nation to ever qualify for the event and were led by the University of Tennessee’s Khadija “Bunny” Shaw into the tournament. Shaw had the assisted on Jamaica’s only goal in the tournament, scored by University of Florida alum Havana Solaun. With fans of schools all over the South keeping an eye on this team, locals had another player to watch for Jamaica in Cheyna Matthews.
Lovejoy fans remember her as Cheyna Williams where she lettered in three sports (soccer, basketball, and track). It was on the pitch that Cheyna excelled, helping to lead the Wildcats to the Georgia High School Association state tournament in each of her four years. She scored 141 goals in those four seasons and was named to the All-Region team every year. After she was drafted by the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), she told the Clayton News Daily, “It’s crazy. You don’t realize what you accomplish until you look back years later,” she said. “It’s awesome to think about, but I don’t have the full grasp of it that I will in 10-15 years. It’s an honor. I loved my high school. I had the best four years there.”
Outside of school, Cheyna starred for the United Futbol Association youth club and was coached by Atlanta Silverbacks legend Iggy Moleka. She was part of a state championship team in 2011 and participated in the Georgia State Soccer Association’s Olympic Development Program for six years while in middle school and high school.
In college, she played for two years at Vanderbilt where she was named to the All-SEC Freshman team in 2012 and the All-SEC first team in 2013. Cheyna’s success continued after transferring to Florida State, helping them to their first national championship in school history in 2014. They fell in the national semifinals in her final season with the Seminoles, but Cheyna was named to the All-ACC first team and the All-NCAA Tournament team.
Since turning professional and joining the Washington Spirit, she has been a top goalscorer for the club. She made news off the field when she married now-San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who she met while they were both at Vanderbilt. Cheyna missed the entire 2018 NWSL season while pregnant and giving birth to their first son Josiah.
Cheyna had participated in an Under-23 camp for the United States, but never with the full national team. Her mother was from Jamaica, which made her eligible to represent them internationally. However, funding has always been tight for the women’s national team in Jamaica. In fact, they did not play matches in 2016 and 2017 as Cheyna’s professional career was starting. They reformed the team in May of 2018 to prepare to attempt to qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Cheyna was unable to join the squad until qualification had already been secured. She participated in her first training camp in January of this year, only a few months after giving birth. With Josiah alongside her, she stunned everyone with her ability to compete so quickly.
“I first met Cheyna at a large camp in January this year when we brought in 32 players. She had her baby with her. We definitely took some precautions but she did really well with it," Jamaica’s physical trainer Will Hitzelberger said. "She improved her time by 56 percent in a short space of time. I don’t think the average person would know that she had a baby.”
It was her first trip back to Jamaica since she was very young.
Making her national team debut in February against Chile, Cheyna started the NWSL season in fine form with two goals in four starts. She earned her spot with the Jamaican team as they headed to France. She went on to start two matches in the tournament, including Jamaica’s debut in the event on June 9 in a 3-0 loss to Brazil.
The losses in the tournament will not be Jamaica’s, or Cheyna’s, lasting legacy from their participation. It will be the millions that they inspire. The work that Cheyna put in to even be able to get on the field, less than a year after giving birth, drew the attention of the official World Cup website.
“It’s empowering. My goal every time I’m out there is to not look like I just had a baby nine months ago," She told FIFA.com’s Kayon Davis. "And obviously, to help my team get results - that’s the next step.”