Every four years, the Summer Olympics become the focal point of the world’s athletics attention. During those years, the WNBA goes on pause so their athletes can go compete, as does the NWSL given the number of international athletes in that league. For those youth that watch their favorite athletes compete, some have dreams of wearing that country name on their chest and competing for gold on the international stage. For South Eugene’s Liya Brooks, that dream will become a reality on September 3rd when she suits up for the Jamaican National Soccer Team in an international friendly against South Korea. The senior is also a Washington State commit but being able to represent her heritage on the world stage is atop of the list of her achievements thus far.
The roots that Brooks has in Jamaican culture starts in the nuclear family, as her mother was born and raised in Jamaica, “My mother was born and raised in Jamaica and my father has parents that were raised there as well,” Brooks said. “I still have family there that I visit occasionally.” For Brooks, her journey as an athlete started from the age of eight, when she would attend YMCA soccer camps, “I started playing soccer because I’d been interested in it for a couple of years, but never actually played with a club team,” Brooks explained. “I was young, athletic, and needed someplace to get rid of all that energy.” How Brooks became a goalkeeper has an interesting backstory, “When I was nine, my coach at the time had our whole team rotate through the keeper position and try to save a penalty kick,” Brooks told me. “When it was my turn in the goal, I made a really nice save. After that, it took a bit of convincing to have my parents let me play keeper, but once I did, I never looked back.”
Her journey to the top job on the Jamaican National Team started earlier this year for Brooks, her got her first tastes of international action, “Prior to being called up to the national team, I’ve had experience with the U20 and U17 Jamaican National Teams,” Brooks explained. “I received an email and was invited to my first youth national team camp in January. It was a weeklong and consisted of nothing but eat, play soccer, sleep, and repeat. It was a really good way to just to forget everything around you and immerse fully into the game.” Her hard work paid off a couple months later, as Brooks was given the biggest stage of her life to play on, “Since then I’ve been selected to play as the first-string goalkeeper at two CONCAF women’s championships in the Dominican Republic.”
At U20 CONCAF, Brooks went 1-1 in group stage play allowing only one goal and posting a shutout against Cuba, with Jamaica advancing to the Round of 16 before falling to Panama. For the U17 National Team, Brooks posted a 3-1-1 record for Jamaica, posting two shutouts and helping the team draw with eventual champion Canada in group stage action. Jamaica would make it to the quarterfinals but were eventually eliminated by the United States. After her performances on the youth national squads, Brooks is being called up to the senior squad and represent Jamaica on the biggest stage against South Korea in September.
For Brooks, representing Jamaica has not only been a dream come true, but has helped her spread a “supportive winning mentality” outside of there, “I really developed a supportive winning mentality with Jamaica,” Brooks said. “I find that it’s way more influential to receive criticism from someone who you know has your best interest at heart and that you trust completely.” As for her role as a member of South Eugene, Brooks explained her strategy with her high school program, “I try to make sure that everyone on my team at South Eugene knows that I care for and want nothing but the best for them,” Brooks expressed. “I try to be as uplifting as I can while playing in the goal and cheer on each teammate individually. These little bonds created within the team help to grow the teams trust with one another and present South Eugene as a solid unit to our competitors.”
As a young woman who has ascended her way to the world stage, Brooks has advice and insight for girls who might want to do something like she has for Jamaica, which goes deeper than the typical work harder than everyone else mentality, “I feel like everyone always hears the “just work really hard and don’t give up,” Brooks expressed. “Obviously this is extremely important. However, there becomes a point where everyone you now play with and against also is working their hardest and never gives up either.”
For Brooks, she says that knowing the right people and connecting with them is the key, “If you’re at an ID camp, talk to each of the coaches individually and make sure that you’re remembered,” she explained. “These small gestures go a long way when in future you need a reference to get into a certain program you’ve been working really hard to get into. As you move higher up the ladder, you’ll notice that you start running into the same people over and over again. This is when it’s great to have that connection to them that the person next to you might not have created in the past. When all else fails, just make sure to be a kind and respectful person. You won’t be the best for long if you think you’re better than those around you.”
As she prepares for a date against South Korea, Brooks gave gratitude to those who helped her ascent and kept her going on the journey, “I’m so grateful to be surrounded by such an honest and caring support system. All of my coaches, friends, and family push me to be the best I can be. They believe in me even during times when I don’t believe in myself. Knowing I have that backing me up, helps me strive for nothing less than success.”