UCF student-athlete Konya Plummer made history playing for Jamaica in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Summer 2019 | By Jenna Marina Lee
UCF rising senior Konya Plummer’s journey to becoming theyoungest team captain at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cupstarted on the sideline of an open field in the small Jamaicancommunity of Epsom, Saint Mary.
At 14, Plummer had just received her first soccer ball as a gift from her mother, and she took it to a field hoping to join a competitive evening game.
The neighborhood boys didn’t think she was good enough to play, so they took her ball and sent her to sit on the side to watch.
Plummer plopped down and began braiding long blades of grass to pass the time. And then, with the same determination that would eventually drive her to lead the first Caribbean nation to a Women’s World Cup appearance, shevowed to prove herself.
“I started training. I had to be strong and I had to be tough,” Plummer says. “From then, I decided, I’m never going to sit on the sideline again.”
What unfolded next has been an adventure that has provided the interdisciplinary studies major with the opportunity to forge a path unlike anyone in her native country who has come before her.
Plummer’s hometown is roughly 40 miles from Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, on the northeast side of the island. She describes it as “country” — which is the nickname her national team teammates gave her — and says it’s her favorite place in the world.
When she was 16 years old, she flew on a plane for the first time to compete in Miami, and her world opened up. The ideathat something more could be out there propelled her to move to the United States and join a club team, West Pines United F.C. in South Florida.
There, she first caught the attention of Hue Menzies, who is the executive director of a competitive club team in Oviedo and the Jamaica women’s national team’s head coach.
“She was the best of the younger players. We felt like we needed to follow her,” says Menzies, who joined the women’s national team staff as a consultant in 2015 before taking over as head coach a year later.
She soon worked her way up to the senior national team as a center back defender and was named captain. Menzies says she may be young on paper, but her maturity and leadership qualities are evident in the way she carries herself.
“We have players on the team who are 33 years old and look up to her. It’s just who she is as a person,” Menzies says. “She is Jamaica. She is what Jamaica is about.”
“Do I look strong?”Plummer asks as she poses during a photo shoot on UCF’s soccer field. Sure, there are brief moments when she’s also concerned about the integrity of her top bun, but she never asks if a strand of hair is misplaced or if the makeup artist on call can glam her up a bit.
“Do I look strong?”
Because of their lack of opportunities and the perception of female footballers in their country, the women of Jamaica have to be strong.
Jamaica has no professional league for women. Even in 2019, some people insist it’s a men’s game — no women allowed.
According to a feature story that ran in the June issue of ESPN the Magazine, the Jamaican Football Federation has cut the funding for the team twice, leaving the squad disbanded for years at a time and eliminating any possibility of qualifying for a World Cup or Olympics.
When the federation did reinstate the team, the article states that the players did their own laundry. They rode in rickety vans. The squad would practice and then break for a few days so players could work at their day jobs. Meanwhile, Jamaica’s men’s national team has full funding and ran training camps ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, even though their squad hasn’t qualified for the tournament since 1998.
The women’s team has had to largely rely on benefactors, like Cedella Marley (Bob Marley’s daughter), to get to where they are today.
By qualifying for this year’s World Cup, theteam cautiously hopes the milestone will serveas a catalyst for change and progress.
Menzies has made it a priority for the women’s national team to run soccer clinics for children. In the past, he says they were lucky to draw 20 kids. Now, 200 will show up.
“It’s all about preaching the opportunity isthere if you just focus yourself to beat all the oddsaround you and make that decision to go on theright path,” he says. “I think football can do thatfor them. It’s another avenue for young femaleswho want to come to the States and get aproper education.”
Shortly after the team qualifiedfor the World Cup, Olivia Grange,Jamaica’s minister of culture, gender,entertainment and sport, insisted on acountrywide celebration for the ReggaeGirlz, the team’s nickname.People lined the streets towelcome the players as theypulled into towns. Plummeraccepted keys to thecity at variousstops, includingMontego Bay and Kingston, on behalf of the team.Concerts were held. They met the prime minister.
Menzies says the whole experience was morethan any of them expected. The only thing hecould compare it to is when he witnessed NelsonMandela visit Jamaica in 1991.
“We already see the impact. We call them ‘thewagonists.’ We have no problem with you jumpingon the wagon. We just want you to stay on it,”Menzies says. “Our story doesn’t end now. It goesbeyond. I don’t want our players and our staff tobecome complacent. We still have to rememberthe reason why we’re doing this. It’s not just aboutthe World Cup. It’s about how we are going tosustain this after the World Cup.”
Prior to this year, just three Knights had ever beennamed to a FIFA Women’s World Cup roster inthe 28-year history of the championship: LenaPetermann, who played one season at UCF in2013 before turning pro and competing for hernative Germany in the 2015 Women’s World Cup;Amy (Allman) Griffin ’88, a 1991 champion;and legend Michelle Akers ’89, who was a partof three World Cups and led Team USA to twochampionships in 1991 and 1999.
This year, however, Plummer was one of fourKnights who represented their countries inFrance, and the first UCF student-athleteto compete on the global stage while stillenrolled in school.
“Participating in the World Cup or winning aWorld Cup championship is the equivalentof competing at the Olympics or winninga gold medal. It’s a dream that anysoccer player is going to have.That’s the pinnacle of yourcareer,” says UCF women’ssoccer head coach TiffanyRoberts Sahaydak,who won Olympicgold and theWorld Cup during her 10 years as a member of the U.S.women’s national team.
Roberts Sahaydak was 22 years old — just a fewmonths older than Plummer is now — when shehelped the United States capture glory in the 1999World Cup in front of more than 90,000 fans atthe Rose Bowl in California. Much like Plummer,the UCF coach didn’t have any female soccerplayers to look up to when she was growing up.But in 1999, Roberts Sahaydak became that rolemodel for the next generation.
“Konya is now in that position to be thatperson for Jamaica, which is incredible to thinkabout,” Roberts Sahaydak says. “Some little girlfrom Jamaica is going to be watching Konya thissummer, and that fire is going to go off. They aregoing to say, ‘I want to be just like her when I growup.’ … Having these role models helps these younggirls stay on path and stick to their education,stick to their work ethic and their dreams.”
And that realization is not lost on Plummer.
Whether she’s on the field or studying for atest, she thinks about the kids looking up to her.She thinks about her family. She thinks about herteammates. She thinks about the people in herhometown who stop her on the street to ask forher autograph. And she doesn’t want to disappointa single one of them.
She says she wrestles with some heavyquestions: How should she deal with fame? Howcan she achieve all she wants to and still have a lifeoutside of soccer? Why was she appointed to be aleader at such a young age?
While on an official national team trip to SouthAfrica in April — two months before stepping ontothe field in France for the biggest moment of herlife thus far — she got the answer.
“I was talking to one of our hosts and shesaid, ‘Your name means leadership. It meanscommand.’ I almost cried when she told me that,”Plummer says. “I was searching for the answer mywhole time being a captain — why was I chosen?It may be a coincidence, but I take it seriously.Everything happens for a reason.
“I was born to be a leader, and I was born to bein this moment.”