After working her way back to form during her time at Arizona State University (ASU), Jayda Hylton-Pelaia is eager to prove that she belongs and her selection to Chicago Red Stars in the National Women's Soccer League (NSWL) provides the perfect opportunity for her to do so.
“Getting drafted is a huge move for me and truly a dream come true. It means that I get to keep doing what I love as I make the next step in my career. I feel as though I've been underestimated a lot in my career, so this puts my name out there and almost proves that I deserve to compete at high levels,” Hylton-Pelaia told the Jamaica Observer.
The Canadian-born Reggae Girlz defender, who was sidelined for almost two year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), made a promising returning to action in fall last year when she joined ASU as a graduate transfer from East Carolina University.
Hylton-Pelaia's hard work and driven attitude earned her a starting spot on ASU's backline at the outset of the 2021 campaign and from there, she virtually threw down the gauntlet for her 49th pick to the 16-year-old club in the annual NWSL college draft.
Not only did she provide ASU's defence with an experienced, stabilising presence, starting 16 of the 19 games she played in, but she also accounted for one goal and two assists.
“When you realise that you're playing with and against some of the best players in the country, it can be a humbling experience, but it was also a confidence booster for me.
“My time at ASU made getting drafted possible because it proved that I can compete at a high level with much confidence which took my game to the next level,” Hylton-Pelaia noted.
She continued: “So I think this was a great year for me in terms of growth. I think I matured a lot on and off the field while in Arizona. Although our season didn't go the way we wanted it to, playing for ASU was one of the best decisions I've made thus far.
“I played with and competed against some of the best players in the country. This season I played some of the best soccer I've ever played and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to continue to improve.”
Like it was when she was transitioning to ASU, the tough tackling right full back, who loves to go forward, is well aware of the responsibility that comes with her signing and it is one that she embraces with full focus on her commitment to her body.
Hylton-Pelaia and others are set to report to a six-week pre-season camp beginning on February 1, before kicking off the 2022 season on March 19, with group play for the NWSL Challenge Cup.
“Playing in the PAC 12 prepared me to play against various playing styles and as expected every game was different because every team was different. So I'm sure that the transition to playing in the NSWL will be even more intense,” she said.
“But I've been working on my speed and strength with the main focus being on getting lots of touches on the ball. Of course, moving to a new place can be challenging but it's nothing I haven't already done. I'm confident that I can make a smooth transition into Chicago,” Hylton-Pelaia added.
That said, the 23-year-old, who last represented the Reggae Girlz at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, also has her mind set on making a return to the now Vin Blaine-coached setup for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers and is well aware that her performances for the Red Stars will determine that outcome.
“With joining any new team, there are always going to be nerves but I trust that I have prepared myself for what's to come and so I am excited for the challenge,” said Hylton-Pelaia, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology.
“I hope I can bring a defensively solid, yet attacking wing-back presence to the team. I believe it makes such a difference on a team when full backs are consistently getting forward, so I am hoping I will have some success there because of course I have ambitions to represent Jamaica again and to help them qualify for the World Cup,” the 5'4” player ended.