Back in purple and gold after Jamaican summer
By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Friday, August 16, 2019
Jayda Hylton-Pelaia has played countless soccer matches in Canada and the United States, impressing plenty of observers with her fluid dribbling and defensive skills.
Her effect on American Athletic Conference coaches was felt Tuesday when she was named AAC preseason defensive player of the year, less than a week after she returned to Greenville from a summer circuit representing Jamaica at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru.
Even as a veteran soccer player, Hylton-Pelaia's four games in black, green and gold for Jamaica, where the women's national teams are nicknamed Reggae Girlz, showed her a new layer of impact within the sport.
"It is always there and anyone can just go play soccer in the U.S. or Canada, but in Jamaica, it's not the most developed country so when we were going around the city, people were like, 'Oh my gosh, it's the Reggae Girlz and the coolest thing ever,'" said Hylton-Pelaia, who lived in Canada until she signed with the Pirates and came to Greenville in 2016. "That made us feel a special sense of pride. It makes you say, 'Wow,' because we are doing something for these smaller communities and showing these little girls that they can grow up and play soccer, too."
Hylton-Pelaia's connection to Jamaica is as unique as her playing style at ECU that allows for her to push forward on offense like a wing back while playing outside defensive back.
She was born in Ontario, Canada. Her father, Gary Hylton, was born in Jamaica and lived there until he was a teenager. Her mom, Tracy Pelaia, is Italian.
This diverse background fueled her international appreciation, although she said the people in eastern North Carolina have also provided her a comforting college environment.
"It's a special thing to get to represent where you come from and your roots and your parents," Hylton-Pelaia said. "Not many people get to do that, so when you are playing you kind of have to remember who you are playing for and what you are playing for. ... I enjoy the culture in Jamaica."
Hylton-Pelaia's role with the team began with a camp in Jamaica in mid-July, then the Jamaicans took off for Peru.
What still sticks with her about the Pan Am Games international competition is the speed of opponents. She played against Mexico, Paraguay, Columbia and Peru.
"It was exciting and I learned a lot and it was good playing against South American players," said Hylton-Pelaia, who was second-team all-AAC during her junior season and scored two goals with four assists to complement her steady defense. "Now that I am back here, I feel quicker because I was so used to playing against their players who played so fast. ... The South American teams were just really quick."
ECU will hold a home exhibition against VCU tonight at 7. The Pirates' first regular-season match is Thursday versus George Mason.
All Pirate soccer and volleyball home matches offer free admission this season.
ECU coach Jason Hamilton said Hylton-Pelaia's breakout junior campaign was fueled by several factors. She started all 53 games for the Pirates from 2016 to '18, including her freshman year, to become the first ECU foreign-born player in program history to experience game action, but she didn't record a goal or assist until last season.
"Her potential is limitless, but it is just what she does with that potential and that is where we really have tried to work with her," said Hamilton, who was named the fourth head coach in ECU women's soccer history on Dec. 11, 2017. "Academically, she has made strides that are night and day. She had a 3.84 GPA last spring, which is way higher than when we first got here.
"She has become more disciplined as a person on and off the field. She has higher standards for herself and has really embraced our culture. When your best players do that, you are going to have the most success."
Hylton-Pelaia was told by Hamilton on Tuesday about her AAC preseason award, which was voted on by the league's 10 head coaches. ECU's team was picked fifth in the American preseason poll.
"Coach told me in front of all the girls, so it was kind of embarrassing because I didn't know," Hylton-Pelaia said. "It was kind of a shock to me, too. But I like it and being noticed and recognized is always good, I just hope that I can live up to it this season."
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.