As the day draws to a close, UBC women’s soccer is just getting started at Ken Woods Field. On the field amongst her teammates stands Jessica Williams with a look in her eyes that says she knows what needs to be done and how to do it.
The whistle blows and she’s off, buzzing with action. She’s always on the move, tracking opponent attacks, assisting the counter attack, supporting her teammates. One moment, she’s intercepting a through ball in her own half and the next she’s up-field, supplementing the attack with her runs down the middle of the park. The first-year centre-back is driven, determined and daring, a combination that makes her an asset to the powerhouse ’Birds team.
She brings that same dynamic talent to the T-Birds’ track and field team, as a rare breed of dual-sport athlete here at UBC.
The track and soccer rookie caught the eyes of the school’s coaches for her stellar performances in both sports. Prior to UBC, she earned multiple gold medals for the 400 metre at the BC High School and Athletics BC club levels. In the soccer realm, Williams was a member of the Vancouver Elite Girls FC REX program, played for Coastal FC and was the captain of Team BC as it took gold in the Western Canada Games in 2015.
Such displays of excellence did not go unnoticed. T-Birds track and cross-country coach, Laurier Primeau, and soccer coach, Jesse Symons, collaborated together to enable her to participate in both sports while attending UBC.
“This has happened to me all my life, I’ve had to make a choice and then UBC was like, ‘why don’t you just do both?’ So, for the first time in my life, they are in separate seasons,” Williams said.
“I was fortunate to work with Jessica with the Whitecaps, she was a leader and a high impact player,” said Symons.“When I got this job, she was one on my first calls and fortunately it worked out that she’s able to come here and do both track and soccer.”
Primeau shared a similar interest in the first-year arts student.
“Her times speak for themselves. I always liked the way she ran, she runs fearlessly, probably the same way she plays soccer,” he said.
The rookie’s athletic prowess is perhaps unsurprising given her roots. The White Rock, BC native is the daughter of Paul Williams and Lynn Kanuka-Williams — both Olympians. Her father ran long distance for Canada in three Olympic Games, while her mother secured the bronze for Canada in the 3000m at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Even with all the genetic ties going for her, Williams has taken it upon herself to sculpt her own path.
“My mom’s been my track coach since I really started running. My parents are my idols in terms of success and what I would want for myself, if I could have that. But everything that has happened, has come from me internally,” Williams said.
Although her ability has a great say in the matter, both coaches were enthusiastically drawn to who she was as a person and her effect on each respective team.
“Being a first-year player at UBC is extremely difficult but she not only plays but also influences the team – most of our goals start from her playing out of the back. She’s shown she can defend, and hopefully she influences a lot of players in her five years here. She’s got a great personality, she’s humble, she puts the team before herself and she’s been a great addition to the team,” Symons said.
“She is a really great person and she will fit well into the team culture here and that’s as important as the performance: the fact that we have someone who is a contributor in the locker room equally to performances on the track,” Primeau said.
Despite track coming up in the spring, Williams' focus is on the task at hand.
“I’m focused on soccer and this is what I want to be doing right now but I am really excited to go run in the spring,” she admits.
Balancing the juggling act that is university is no small ordeal for any student, much less a dual-sport varsity athlete but Williams has something to keep her going: “My mom used to always tell me, ‘The sun will always rise tomorrow’ and now that I’m by myself and in university and there’s a lot to do, I just tell myself, ‘you know what, the sun will always rise tomorrow.’”
The year rages on and the challenges keep coming, but as articulated by her family, ‘the sun will always rise tomorrow’ and much to the delight of the T-Birds, Jessica Williams looks set to rise with it.